As it turns out, the charter school I’m interested in sending my kids to was not among them. I am a bit bummed, but this was their first time applying, and it sounds like they’re going to try again next year, so there’s still a decent chance that it will happen before the 2013-2014 school year.
Of course, none of the major news media actually listed which schools were approved, I had to ask Google about that and click through a couple of places. Most of the stories focused on the differences between supporters of charter schools and opponents of charter schools.
I get irritated every time I hear from the opponents of charter schools. Actually, as far as I can tell, the most vocal opponents of charter schools seem to be the teacher’s unions. That’s hardly surprising since most charter schools are non-union. My bias tends to be that while the teachers union claims to have the interests of students at heart, what they are really supporting is their membership: unionized teachers.
The primary reason I want to send my kids to the charter school I’m interested in is that no traditional public school is going to offer them instruction in Mandarin. I’m going to a moderate amount of trouble to make sure my kids learn Chinese, a school that actually helped with that goal would be a real bonus. I also think that overall they’d get a better education at a charter school, in part because the teachers aren’t unionized.
You might wonder what I have against unionized teachers. What I have against unionized teachers is a very good memory of my own childhood. There was my terrible first grade teacher who had no control over the classroom and rather unrealistic expectations of the behavior and abilities of six and seven year olds. There was the absolutely abominable fourth grade teacher who wasted the entire year running his mouth on irrelevant tangents; I once went off to my in-school viola lesson when he was going over problem 5 of the math homework and returned an hour later and he still hadn’t moved on to problem 6 and was speaking about something totally unrelated to math. There were the team teaching fifth grade teachers who aired their political opinions in class, peppered with gross inaccuracies about the world. Junior high school was just too terrible to go into any detail, bad teachers, an inept administration too lazy to do a damn thing about an actually dangerous situation, and an orchestra teacher who had absolutely no business trying to run a classroom. High school was better only because the honors classes got all the best teachers, but the classes that weren’t on separate tracks had severe issues. There was the French teacher who routinely didn’t teach, and on her best days spent less than half the period teaching. She wasn’t the only one either, just the most egregious. I remember I wrote the essay for my application to MIT during an orchestra period where the orchestra teacher didn’t feel like teaching, so she didn’t. To say that accountability was lacking would be a gross understatement. I can’t help but think that if the teachers and administrators weren’t all unionized that perhaps some of the worst offenders could have be fired; at least I knew that as things stood teachers were only let go when there were budget cuts, and that was done solely on the basis of seniority. I don’t want my kids to have to suffer through wasted years or class periods where they fear for their physical safety because their teacher has zero control of the class. I want my kids to have teachers who are held accountable for their performance, and to me that means they have to be non-union.
Another thing that you’ll hear opponents of charter schools say is that charter schools bankrupt the district schools. All I can say to that is: working as intended. When a child goes to a charter school instead of a district school, their share of money goes with them. I am considering sending my kids to a charter school that plans to locate in downtown Boston and have a 8am to 4pm school day. The logistics of this would mean that if I do this I am going to have to get up at 6am, get everyone ready for the day, and probably be out the door by 7:15 in order to drive my child to school, then get myself to work. Then I or someone else is going to have to pick them up at 4pm. There’s a local elementary school a block and a half down the street we live on. I am not planning of braving morning rush hour in Boston daily on a whim. If I go with the charter school it’ll be because they are worth the hassle, and if they are worth the hassle it’ll be because they are doing a whole lot better with the same amount of money per student than the district school. It may be that the old style schools will all have to close and go away, and to my mind that might not be a bad thing because I don’t exactly have fond memories of the local school district of my childhood.
One argument that a friend used on me against charter schools was that if all the parents who cared about their kids moved to charter schools then kids whose parents didn’t care about them would be left in the even-worse-off public schools. I agree that such a situation would be unfortunate for the kids whose parents don’t care about them. On the other hand, I think if you’re a kid whose parents don’t care about you you’re pretty much screwed anyway, and telling me that I can’t be given the tools to have a more of a say in my kids education because not everyone is a good parent is really, deeply unsatisfactory. Isn’t it generally a good idea to reward positive behavior? The reward that parents want for being good advocates for their kids is better schooling for their kids, not to just be told ‘it’s good that you take such an interest in your child’s education’. Usually if you reward good behavior appropriately, good behavior increases. Also, I’d like to think that most of the parents out there really care about their kids, and if there were more school choice available then the failing public schools wouldn’t be viable anymore and the kids with bad parents would get moved to better schools anyway.
I am interested in what other people think, especially if you disagree with me and are willing to say why you disagree. So many times when my friends disagree with me they remain silent, or approach the subject obliquely and I find that frustrating.