Questions About Charter Schools

If there is one thing I know about charter schools is that they receive public money and don’t have to follow the rules and regulations that a public school does. I realize I’m simplifying this, but sometimes it is just best to break it down.

And it is a for-profit model. That is important.

That seems odd to me as there is a lot of conversation happening around this issue and it is confusing. And there is a great deal of chatter surrounding charter schools but not a lot of explanation. Now I realize that some folks are going to hammer me on this, but I do believe that there needs to be some answers to the questions being asked.

Things I’ve noticed is that this “conversation” around charter schools are happening in urban areas. Fair enough, but is there a rural initiative in place? I’ve looked and haven’t been able to find one that fits Tennessee.

And it also concerns me that this initiative is well-documented on being a priority of the Koch Brothers.  It is stories like this one from Salon from earlier this year that disturb me:

But there are a few serious problems with the school choice movement. Though it attracts mainstream conservatives like Cosby, as well as Democrats like President Barack Obama, it is not, at its core, a bipartisan endeavor. Its most important backers are rightwing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and other groups supported by billionaire rightwing ideologues like the Koch brothers. They want to dismantle public education altogether and run schools as businesses, judged as “successes” or “failures” based on abstract data taken from high-stakes standardized test scores.

I have a few questions that I think leaders that are not only charter school advocates should answer but teachers and public school administration officials who understand the dynamics of educating Tennessee students:

  • Was collective bargaining for teachers dispatched out of the way to set charter schools in place? (In my opinion, the answer is absolutely yes.)
  • Why would a for-profit company be better for school children than public education?
  • How will data on the actual retention skills of information of students be measured? If charter schools don’t have to follow the regulations of public schools, what is their model and WHY is it better?
  • Once again, if a county only has one or two high schools, what determines which one will be a charter school, which one won’t and how will public funding be distributed? There are a lot of counties with only one or two high schools that go back back to the consolidation that occurred in the early ’90s where small, community schools closed and moved to larger-based schools.
  • Who will monitor the profits of the charter schools? Who will regulate the curriculum?
I am not a parent but I have nieces and nephews in the public school system. One thing I’ve learned from each child is that they all learn at different rates. One nephew has trouble with reading retention so he learns a bit slower than the other three. He is just slower at comprehending the information. My two nieces have thrived in public schools. They have benefited from the sense of community and the teachers for the most part have been fantastic.
Yet I return to that each child is different and they aren’t numbers. Teachers aren’t building a lawn mower on a conveyer line, they are preparing the next generation.
Let me reiterate, children aren’t products. They are kids and whether we are parents or not, it is our responsibility as adults to feel like we have given them the tools to guide them into adulthood.
So the biggest suggestion is that everyone gets the answers without the confusion. I’ve always thought that if a question can’t be answered easily, it is purposefully not be answered easily.
And this is not something that can be put in a box of partisanship on a state-wide level. As news these days is sometimes hard to come by, it would be interesting to see how democrats and republicans respond to the future of the education system in Tennessee.
Wonder if they can do it simply and without spouting talking points?
This conversation isn’t over by a long shot and won’t be done in one day. Now is the time for people to start asking questions.
Better yet, why not ask a teacher who spends hours and hours with our children every day. They might be able to tell you how your children’s education is coming along.
Data is great, a conversation with a real person is also a good thing.

5 comments for “Questions About Charter Schools

  1. July 10, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Trace, There is considerable leeway in curriculum for charter schools that translates into “not having to follow the rules of public schools”. At the end of the day, however, I believe charter schools still have to comply with the state and federal testing regulations (See )

    Why would a ‘for profit’ be better than a public school? The correct answer is, “it may be better…and it may not be better”. Here are the aspects that I believe make some charter schools “better”: a. the students who are there because a parent took the extra effort to get his/her student into a charter school (translation: they are genuinely concerned about the child’s education and willing to participate); b. class sizes are regulated by the school and thus are generally smaller (considerably so); c. teachers in charter schools can concentrate more time on teaching than (most) public school teachers who must deal with a plethora of social/economic/disciplinary/regulatory issues.

    How’s that for a start?

  2. Jim
    July 10, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Charter schools may have been a good idea, but it’s one that isn’t work. A comprehensive study by Stanford University found that well over a third were worse than public schools, less than 20 pct were better and the rest were about the same.

    Charters don’t work and we shouldn’t rob public schools of money they need to continue this failed experiment.

  3. July 10, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    A lot to respond to here….

    First, I’m a teacher. I’ve taught in district schools in Nashville and currently teach in a charter school.

    Second, it’s against the law for TN charters to be for-profit. All TN charters are non-profit. For-profit charters exist in other states, but there aren’t that many. Most charter operators across the country are non-profit.

    See this for the relevant TN law:

    I teach in a charter (LEAD Academy High School) because it offers a better opportunity to close the achievement gap. I want all schools to be successful, district or charter, because we all gain when our kids get a better education. I firmly believe my school can both serve our children well and also be a model for other schools to learn from our successes and, yes, our mistakes.

    I could type all day about this — please see my blog because I’ve covered a lot of this already — but I don’t want to write a never-ending comment. Just know that I’d love to continue the conversation and answer any questions people have.

    All best,

  4. Lyn Hoyt
    July 16, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Trace, these are great questions. I can tell you my somewhat limited knowledge that Charters began as a “think tank’ way to come into failing districts and try new things by taking over failing schools. Some of the proven results might even be moved mainstream into the public system. It is a nobel direction. And I am all for school choice. There are good charters doing great things. But, some fundamentals have gone off track. The buzz in Nashville is about this new charter school called Great Hearts Academies trying to move in. They are a non-profit, privately managed. In 2002 Tennessee Public Charter Schools Act, included provisions governing eligible students, the authorized number of charter schools, and the authorized term of a charter. In 2009 it was amended. Now there is no limit to the number of charters and limited restrictions on the population they serve in TN. Great Hearts intends to capitalize on this law change. It opens lots of opportunities for all children. But, ‘Parents concerned about Great Hearts’ are pushing for Great Hearts to amend their charter to be more inclusive and serve all of Nashville. We need charters to provide transportation and not limit enrollment of free and reduced lunch students who would like the choice to attend a charter. To quote Great Hearts “If they want to attend GHA they will find a way to get there.” We risk creating a socio-economically segregated school system if Great Hearts has no accountability for serving the demographics of their student population. In the Nashville system where 70% of the students are free and reduced lunch, is this how Public Schools should serve their population? The reality is that a working family that would like to attend will choose not to because they can’t get off work every day at 3pm to get their kids at Great Hearts. If this is not all about money – then Great Hearts will find a way to bus. If not, then they are not a good fit for Nashville. What if Westview was turned into a county charter and the Weakley county school board told folks in Dresden, you have to find your own ride to get there? Is this how we want public money spent? Okay- thanks for letting me rant. You can read more.

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