It’s back-to-school time in New York City, and the last echoes of summer have all but extinguished. As the happy kids scurry from bus stop to home in New York’s senior borough, I’m reminded of the argument for charter schools. Charter schools have done a lot of good in the short time they’ve been in New York City. Some have even argued that charter schools are the way that all schools should be made to go. I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Before I explain why, let’s define what charter schools are a little more succinctly.
From the New York City Charter School Center comes the definition: “Charter schools are public schools that operate according to a five-year performance contract or ‘charter.’ They are exempt from many public school regulations for curriculum development, staffing and budgeting; but, they are held accountable for students’ academic performance and specific goals set forth in their charter. If charter schools fail to meet any of these, they risk having their charter revoked or not renewed.” Charter schools are not exempt from state standards or Regents requirements or other state and federal laws about health, safety, civil rights or student assessment.
The New York City Charter School Center continues, “Charter schools are open to all students and cannot discriminate in their admissions’ process. Often there are more interested students than available slots, in which case charter schools must by law choose students through a random lottery. While charters are publicly funded by tax dollars, they do not receive any funding for facilities. In New York City, many of the charter schools share space with traditional public schools.”
Good teachers with a vested interest in teaching students who want to learn, administration enforcing what needs to be enforced – what’s wrong with that? Bureaucracy. If all NYC public schools became charter schools, you’d run into the same problems with bureaucracy that NYC public schools have now. Schools will have all students, and there are many kids in schools who would just rather toe the line. These are kids who have no support from parents, run afoul of teachers, have no ambition for academic achievement, or basically want to just barely pass and get their high school diploma. That’s a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless.
Plus, kids in school have enough stress put upon them already. It sounds silly to those of us who’ve done been through school – many of us look back on our former years with longing. Still, those years are stressful enough. Why add the undue stress of “oh, by the way, if you fail, the school fails”? Kids have to fail to learn how great success feels. Involving teachers and administrators who don’t want to risk their pay with students who don’t want to be there raises a whole host of ethical questions that tread very uncomfortable territory.
In an ideal world, yes, charter schools would be a good idea. Teachers, students, administrators would all be doing the right thing. Acting in unison so that if one of the three limbs fails, the school loses its charter. But charter schools are not the way to make kids take a more vested interest in their education and should not be the standard we hold everyone up to. New York City public schools need to fix what is broken. NYC public schools need smaller class sizes, greater parental involvement and more funds available for the teachers to get the tools they need to teach