Saving Public Education: Quality Education for All

Yes, there are some charter schools out there who are doing great things.

But across the board, charter schools are not outperforming traditional public schools (specific examples: ChicagoNYCNJ).

My biggest “bone to pick” is the fact that some of these “great” charter schools are helping a few, while leaving many, many of our deserving children behind.

Yes, parents should have a voice in the type of school their children attends.

But what if all schools were schools parents wanted their children to go, where wanting a choice wouldn’t even be necessary?

Why advocate for new schools when you can advocate for change?

As someone put it perfectly, charter schools are “band-aids for a seeping wound.” Charter schools may solve a problem temporarily, but we need to look past temporary solutions, and aim to fix the real problem at hand. We need to start working together to create positive, effective, and permanent change.

Imagine. What if all the collective effort, energy, and funds that go into creating more charter schools went into effectively addressing our public schools on terms of what the students, teachers, and community needs? Not “turning them around.” Our students and public schools don’t need “turning around,” they need someone who will listen to what they need. Why are we not helping our public schools, and instead taking them over and attacking them for their “failure”? Why not help our public schools, where majority of our nation’s children will inevitably have to go?

See: Student walkout starts week of “turnaround” protest at Grady, Bronx Students & Parents Call to End Controversial Turnaround ModelBrandon High School in Michigan students protest teacher layoffs, privatization

Full list of 2012 student protests regarding education can be found here.

Why don’t we ask those who will be feeling the impact of education reform and education policy the most what they want, what they want to see change, rather than telling them what they need? Many of us who want to implement change are from the outside, we will never fully understand and grasp what their unique community goes through on an everyday basis–their voices must be amplified, and must be acknowledged when implementing changes that will affect the heart of their community.

And what about the students who don’t get into these schools?

I know many of you have seen Waiting For Superman, but come on. Pause and think about this for a second, in the year 2012 we are holding lotteries to determine if the children we are raising can get a good education.

It is a shame that we not only let happen, but shame on the fact that it is glorified in a movie (See: Not Waiting For Superman).

Yes, I understand that not all charter schools hold lotteries, but that doesn’t take away the fact that they are still happening somewhere.

And the essence of a lottery is not totally dismissed in the communities where they don’t hold them.

Because think about the families who don’t hear about the application to applying to a charter school–or even know how to go about applying.

What about the families whose native language isn’t English, but the application only comes in English–what about them?

What about the students who get kicked out of the charter schools for not getting good enough test scores? The students who are bringing down the schools’ overall test score average, thus making it harder for charter schools to “prove” that they are better than traditional public schools?

Why does receiving a quality education (a given right) have to be a competition?

And even further, what about our special needs students? Why are charter schools’ arms not as open to them as they are to higher-performing students? (Also see: Charter schools underserve special needs students, NYTimes: In Charter Schools, Fewer With Disabilities, WSJ: Charter Schools Fall Short on Disabled)

Charter schools are taking the most privileged of the underprivileged, leaving students who need the most attention and quality education behind.

The main point I’m getting at is, every single child in the United States deserves a quality education, not a select lucky few.

Yes, I understand that the quality of education in traditional public schools varies significantly. BUT, the given fact that public schools are where the majority of our students will be attending, there should be an impassioned national effort to fight this inequity among this public good and established given right. Again, I recognize that charter schools are capable of doing good things, but it is difficult to claim that there will be enough “high-performing” charter schools to bring forth educational equity. We are detracting from the issue at hand, and instead taking detours that bring us further from addressing the needs of our students. We should be looking at approaches that will promote educational equity and equal opportunity for all of our students–permanently. Not expanding institutions that make such a goal increasingly impossible. I do respect those parents and students who do praise the success of charter schools. I do not blame any of the concerned parents who puts their children in charter schools hoping for better and just want their children to succeed. But, if we are ever going to reach educational equity in this country, we must stop looking at temporary and faulty solutions, solutions that will not be addressing our overall population of students. Quality education is a right, quality education should not have to depend on luck. Quality education should be equally accessible to all students, not just the lucky few.

P.S. To folks in NJ: I also suggest you take a look at what Commissioner of Education, Christopher Cerf, is trying to do with charter schools. He wants to expand charter schools, change their mission, and many other changes without going through the charter process, thus violating the charter law in NJ

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10 thoughts on “Saving Public Education: Quality Education for All

  1. I think that we must shift our focus away from the “charter v. public” debate… these labels lead to over-generalizations on both ends (proponents and opponents)… and acts as a means to separate people that ultimately want to reach the same goal… quality education for our students.

    Either side can state facts all day countering their opponents argument…. nonetheless, this “us versus them” mentality is the TRUE distraction… and, frankly a lazy means to reflect on complex issues in the system.

    Charters are not inherently a “temporary solution”…. Just as they – or any public school for that matter — are not inherently good or bad….

    I think the VIEWS and LABELS of them as the “panacea” to ed reform IS what is temporary, distracting, and causing much of the controversy and divide …. I think that we should be looking beyond that…. looking at each and ALL schools on a case by case basis

    (I do understand this “charter v. public” view has come about because charters are highlighted, whether in policy (Race to Top) or anecdotes (Waiting for Superman), as the “panacea” of ed. Reform. Of course, research has shown that this is not the case… So, I agree that they should not be highlighted as such… because again, this is lazy politics and a lazy means to solutions….)

    The research underscores that ALL schools — regardless of the label you put on them – face similar issues plaguing the public school system. That is, if you plant a seed, that seed — regardless of whether it’s a sunflower seed or a dandelion seed — is still going to be in the same contaminated soil… and expected, unrealistically, to thrive… so, there needs to be 2nd order change at a different level and/or multiple levels.

    Therefore, we should look at the successes of individual schools — not look at their label and “assume” from their label that their good or not …

    Looking at the successes of schools on a case by case basis, understanding how they achieved those successes, and reflecting on how they can be adapted to other schools Is where we can attempt change…. at one level.

    Of course though, change is needed on multiple levels, as these are complex issues…. …(The word “change” itself is so abstract that is has no substantive meaning … what specifically are we changing in the ‘public school system’ if we cannot even come to a consensus on the definition of ‘quality and equal education’? funding? achievement on test scores? core curriculum? implementing Social emotional and character education? The list goes on….)

    so it is easy to say what you shouldn’t do or what you shouldn’t have…. But more difficult to think of tangible, realistic solutions.

    I challenge us to begin think “forward”…. and reflect on possible solutions to problems… and more importantly, highlighting the successes already present that overcome those problems

    • And by “ALL schools” I mean schools that, at their most basic level, educate public school children….

      scholars can argue tirelessly about the “type” of students enrolled in each school and how many “types” of students each school enrolled. Nonetheless, at the simplest level, the purpose of each school is to educate public school children

  2. Any child with a disability or who learns differently who walks into the front door of a school should receive the education that meets their needs. For 40 years public schools have worked to fully include ALL children with disabilities into the school community.

    That distinction is meaningful.

    Charters take public money and routinely and systematically exclude the neediest, hardest to teach, and most expensive children. Children with diverse learning needs require more related services, more personnel, more specialized, individualized materials that cost significantly more per pupil.

    That distinction is meaningful.

    The “type” of children schools educate is very relevant as it is grounded in the fact that child development is uneven. At risk children and children with disabilities, by definition, show broader developmental ranges and/ or slower rates of development. These “types” of children (to use your term) need specialized instruction to learn at an appropriate pace designed within their zone of development.

    What does NOT work is to segregate them in separate schools according to their test scores. We did that in this country until 1975 and it did NOT work.

    What does NOT work is force feeding a rigid, inflexible curriculum and testing regime to “prove” they’ve learned or not. This does NOT work.

    Unfortunately for equality, these segregating practices are charter practices. This is the anti-intellectual method DoEd is advancing that will further segregate and separate at least 30 % of our school children.

    That distinction is meaningful.

    • JCGRIM I really appreciate your point!

      And it also ties into my point that it does not reflect on schools labeled as “charters” themselves…

      Simply because it is a charter does not mean it segregates (just as saying a school is “public” does not mean it’s a bad school)….

      for example, it is argued that charter schools have a low population of English Language Learners (ELLs)…

      well, what about charter schools that are Language Immersion schools that are interested in teaching ELLs?

      Schools such as Academia de Lenguaje y Bellas Artes? (

      or Nuestro Mundo? (

      What about El Sol Science and Arts Academy in California,
      Raul Yzaguirre School for Success in Texas,
      International Charter School in Rhode Island,
      and YES Prep also in Texas?
      ( ?

      Just as someone can point to examples of how this school labeled as “charter” does not enroll ELLs, I can also point to examples where they do…. and where we can actually learn something from their practices (and get rid of the ridiculous English-Only instruction laws in some states..)

      But I digress….

      Your main point is what I want to highlight.

      Correct me if I wrong, but you’re describing how students rights are easily disposable… right?

      This is particularly true for students labeled as having a “disability” or impairment (I have issues with those terms… but that is for another discussion).
      This is a problem not just in public schools labeled as “charters” ….. this is a public school SYSTEM problem (!

      And a very urgent and crucial one at that.

      This moreso reflects bad ed. policy and government… and the inability to protect our children and their rights in ALL schools… does it not? So, how can we begin to question the policy that does not protect our children?

    • I also agree that “What does NOT work is force feeding a rigid, inflexible curriculum and testing regime to “prove” they’ve learned or not. This does NOT work.” I hear too many stories from students about them not really learning, but only regurgitating information through rote instruction — instruction meant to prepare them for standardized tests. This does not create lifelong learners.

      what can we propose as a better means to educate our children?

      I believe in an system where students receive a well-rounded education. An education where they can learn the “academic” basics (Math, science, reading, etc.) but also about through social-emotional/character education and the arts, sports, etc. This is as far as content goes, but I also believe in exploratory learning and critical thinking. This would, of course, be based on each student’s capability and progress… not test benchmarks. What do you think?

      Also, I used the word “type” not as a derogatory term but to emphasize a point… it seems the charter v. public. school debate has come down to a question of whether schools are educating the “same” children –“types” of children/students?

  3. I learned everything that I needed to learn about charter schools when I watched middle school students happily leave their old, dangerous public school for the promise of a new beginning at some shiny charter school – only to get sent back months later, crushed, unable to understand why they couldn’t “make it” there. On top of everything that those students had to deal with at such a young age, I couldn’t believe that an institution would add the awful feeling of rejection, too.

  4. Gwen is 1000% correct. the debate over Charter vs. Public simply does not matter. Some public schools do well with special needs students, some do not, and likewise some charter schools do well with special needs students and some do not. The charter high school where I teach does not have as many resources as our nearby public schools, but we still turn out slightly better results, mainly because we are smaller and can isolate and correct some of our problems a little better, but we are still not exactly all that we can be. If we were a public school instead with the same employees, I assure you, it would not be much different.

    The key to education is love. It’s caring. It’s giving a damn. And it’s a top down thing. Attitude determines success. If you are not successful, then change your attitude. If superintendents and principals change their attitudes and take an active role to really observe their teachers and students and not just crunch numbers in an office, we will see change. Positivity will then spread to the teachers, and those positive teachers will send their vibes to the students. It’s really that simple.

    Once attitudes are changed and students are taught how to be students and how to gain the fruits of intrinsic rewards, then we can sprinkle in all of the college and life skills and the well-rounded skills Gwen mentions above in her comments. We can throw anything at these kids, and they will get it! I promise! BUT we all have to buy in, principals, students, teachers, parents, and bloggers! And this can happen in any school, public, private, or charter. The people in charge just need to be more proactive, and if they are not, then we all need to step up. As a teacher, I take care of my classroom. It is a wonderful, healthy, and positive learning environment. Every classroom can be like this. If top-down isn’t working, then let’s go bottom-up and have the caring teachers show others how its done, and put their ideas along with student ideas into policy. Let’s sit down and plan it out in every school across the nation.

  5. I do agree that there are issues that must be addressed concerning charter schools and their regulations…. as there are issues in the greater public school system that also need to be addressed.

    but I don’t agree with the charter v. public debate… the attack on charters.. the attack on non-charters….. labels…. and generalizations….

    that is the wrong focus…

  6. I am really tired of reading articles that offer no concrete solutions. Unless you think “more money” is an actual solution. Here are some actual ideas (in no particular order). Abolish grades. Let each child work at his or her own pace. Don’t label and rank students as if that number means anything in the real world or reflects their actual abilities (e.g. “honor-student”, “gifted” “top 10%”, ADD, sensory-impaired, challenged, etc.) Increase the amount of time spent on unstructured reading. Increase the amount of time spent on free, imaginative play. Don’t advance a child in ANY subject that he or she has not mastered. Don’t hold students back or force them ahead because of a lesson plan tailored for the average. Eliminate grade levels and instead focus on mastery of subjects. Combine children of different ages and abilities to better model the real world. Allow more advanced or older students to assist slower/younger students. Have a master plan the spans grades/ages so children’s education is broader than what can be taught in one year (e.g. a history curriculum that is multi-year).

    I don’t know of any public school that does even some of these things. And the problem with public school is that they, by law, CANNOT do most of these things. So until the Dept of Edu figures out the ONE right way to school and enforces it across the board, then we need alternative schools to try out and model alternative methods. BTW, since there probably is no ONE right way at all, I would rather all schools be charter. Then we can at least implement different models and CHOOSE the one that is right for our kids. In the district I live in, schools are so bad that I know about 20 families who choose to home-school because we have no charter schools and only very expensive private schools. What are their tax dollars getting them? Until you figure out and offer up some actual solutions, at least give families a choice.

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