To Charter School, Or Not To Charter School

This isn’t a regular topic for, but I really wanted to talk about charter schools today. A little background so you can know where I’m coming from: my daughter attended public elementary school from K-2, until we moved her to a public charter school after problems with the local administration. She just started 7th grade at that charter. The little man just started Kindergarten at a public elementary school, although not the one the daughter was pulled out of.

I haven’t really processed all of my thoughts about this topic. Expect this post to be a bit rambling and unfinished – I’m still working it out. Plus, I intend to just draft this out and set it to post in the morning (I’m writing at 9pm, Sunday). I don’t feel like my words will ever feel polished enough for me and I’m just going to toss them out there anyway.

There is a bit of a never-ending debate around charter schools. The data out there about the effectiveness of the schools is murky at best and – with a bit of spin – can fit any number of arguments. I’d say it is complicated, but neither side of the issue would agree with me. The major problems associated with charter schools are very troubling – 1) They take money away from the public schools; 2) They often strip away the best performing children from public school, leading toward higher ratings the public can’t compete with; 3) They are often a way for families to leave schools with a large minority or low income populations; 4) They aren’t bound by the same rules and regulations as their public school counterparts. The issues become more complex when you dig into individual locations. In my state for example, the argument includes a troubled history with public education, current problems in two large districts, and a conservative push for privatization of schools by a famous family foundation.

In theory, my political beliefs say I shouldn’t be a supporter of charter schools and I certainly shouldn’t be sending my daughter to one. It is actually a bit of a personal conflict for me. I’m a firm believer in trying to fix problems in our institutions instead of fleeing for greener pastures. I feel very strongly that it is our duty to work for the improvements together. Any doubts I had about this theory vanished after spending time with American citizens of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in camps during World War II. I’m constantly inspired by their ability to forgive and their commitment to bringing about positive change. The public school system is one of the building blocks of our nation and a place we should all be supporting (financially, physically, emotionally, and lots of other -allys you can think of). I know a lot of people don’t agree with me on this and that’s okay, but you’ll never convince me that simply paying your taxes is enough interest in your local schools.

So, when I came face-to-face with our school problems I was surprised to find my instinct to flee coming up so strong . . . and eventually winning out. I found it very hard to reconcile my personal beliefs with my need to provide the best educational opportunities for my daughter. I suppose part of what made walking-away easier for me was the fact that it wasn’t a “big” issue. I know we weren’t the only ones upset with the actions of our principal and some other high-level staff, but we weren’t dealing with discrimination or something similar. I justified pulling her out with simple questions – “Is it worth the struggle to get a simple slap on the wrist and a ‘we’ll try harder’? Do I want my daughters education to feel like a battle for such a small payoff?”

I still question my decision. Were the problems a one-off or something systematic that needed investigation? What happens if all of the involved parents leave? I don’t think this happened in this situation, but I worry about the precedent. Did I send the wrong message to my daughter? All good questions.


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