Saturday, September 19, 2015

Charter schools.. they're not bad

I'm a teacher and I like charter schools. I know that I'm often in the minority regarding this feeling, especially in my new home here in Washington. Recently, the state supreme court declared that charter schools are unconstitutional. This headline surprised and concerned me... at first.

Having recently moved here from Alaska, I'm kinda new to the local ed world. Up in the AK, our district included 6 alternative learning schools. Some were charter schools, some were magnet schools, and others still just fell in the "alternative" learning category. Our kids went to a charter school that focused on place based education. Specifically, the teachers created a curriculum that used the surrounding watershed as a source of educational enhancement. The school was very hand's on, and great for the active learner.

In all, there are 3 elementary options and 3 high school options beyond that of the traditional model of public school. These options are super popular, highly sought after, and completely funded by public school dollars. How is that? Well, all of these schools fall under the school district umbrella. They may have their own board of parents, but THE school board had to approve the charter and set the guidelines. They are public schools just without the "brick and mortar" feel of what a public school is typically like.

As a father of 5, I see first hand how incredibly different my kids are from each other. They have different interests, sensitivities, and learning styles. My oldest thrives in a traditional education setting. He needs the structure, but has the self drive to make it work. Our second in command needs more freedom. She's our artist with a strong hint of stubborn that won't just sit there and do a worksheet. She would thrive in a less traditional model, something that a charter school offers.

In our new district, there are no alternative learning systems (aka schools of choice or charter schools) in place for elementary and only 1 for secondary students. I know that at least one of my kiddos would benefit from something different, so it's frustrating knowing that option just isn't there. Thankfully, the district is building a team to discuss a new magnet/school of choice to be build for high school students.. and yes, I'm doing all I can to be a part of that team.

So now back to the headline. When I read deep into what the vote was about, I realized that what was unconstitutional were private charter schools. Schools that were not under a district umbrella, but self regulating, and set up by board members not voted on by the public or community. This ruling was not about my understanding of charter schools from my Fairbanks time, but was about the issue of public dollars going to a private school (albeit not a religion based school entity). This is about the constitutionality of vouchers, and a family being able to use public dollars to go to a non-public school. You can read my feelings on vouchers here, hint: I again side skew of my teaching peers.

The take-away of all this, is that charter schools or schools of choice give kids options beyond that of the traditional school setting. School was such a boring place for me to be. I did well only because I hated letting people down, and I hated feeling stupid. These schools are so important to the ever changing learners that we have, and allow for creative collaboration that most people need anymore. Please take the time to watch the video below. It about an amazing school that I wish was available to my oldest daughter. She would thrive in an environment like this!


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