Charter Schools aren’t Replacements

Charter schools are a hot topic here in the state of Florida.  Our governor, Rick Scott, is a proponent of them.  He seems to think that they should be promoted at the expense of the public school system.

Susan Estrich, a columnist for Creators Syndicate, had a piece published recently in the Florida Times Union.  She said, “Former tennis star Andre Agassi deserves enormous credit for recognizing that nothing is more important than ensuring every child gets the kind of quality education that is their best chance for success in a rapidly changing world.

Agassi has sponsored a charter school in Las Vegas that has 650 students and 1,500 on the waiting list.  That is true of many quality charter schools, particularly those located where the rest of the schools are failing.

Agassi has teamed with bankers and investors to embark on a project aimed at building 75 schools over the next three or four years while making money for the investors, including Citigroup Inc. and Intel Corp.

It’s novel and, from my perspective as the taxpayer and a strong supporter of charter schools, deeply troubling.

You aren’t going to fix education by building 75 for-profit charter schools over four years.  If you’re serious about real education reform, the name of the game is transforming public schools, not allowing a few extra children the advantages of charter schools.

I understand that every kid we help matters.  But we can’t build enough charter schools to deal with the problems millions of kids are facing.

The argument for charter schools has never been that they are the answer to the failings of public education.

They were intended to serve as laboratories and models, figuring out what works and why, experimenting with new systems decentralized control and school autonomy so that public schools could learn from the experience.

That is why some of us who have been involved in charter work for years have formed a nonprofit called Future Is Now Schools (FIN Schools), led by nationally known reformer Steve Barr.

The goal was to transform failing public schools by forming local partnerships.”

Here in Jacksonville, we DO have failing public schools, or as we like to euphemistically call them “challenged schools.”

And, as I mentioned previously, Governor Scott believes strongly in the potential of charter schools.  So much so that he has slashed the budget for public schools.  I agree with Ms. Estrich on this.  Charter schools, in fact, are not the answer to the failings of public education.

Often times, and I’m sure you will agree, challenged schools are often in socio-economically disadvantaged areas.  As a result, there are a number of factors that at best are difficult to control.

Coming Friday: Public Education isn’t Failing