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Have you noticed the gradual creep of the charter school movement—the slippery slope meant to take over free public education as we know it and transform our schools to elitist institutions?

Charter Schools Ending Public Education

Charter Schools: The End of Public Education As We Know It?—Rosemary Jenkins

It touts itself as the best way to educate our children but it defies the principals upon which our public education system has been built (commencing all the way back to the early tradition of free public schools espoused by our leaders during the American Revolutionary period).

Sure, many charters boast high scores, but those results are often skewed because at-risk children, those with a variety of disabilities, many from dysfunctional backgrounds, and others are far too often not part of most charter programs—deliberate “exclusions” that at first blush help make the charters, particularly the independent ones, look so good.

Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS), near to where I live, opened several years ago with an atmosphere that reminded me of a police state--cameras and invasive ID cards everywhere (Big Brother constantly looking over everyone’s shoulder, including the teachers and other staff members). [I refer to GHCHS because what they do there seems emblematic of what transpires at so many other independent charters.]

Parents, blinded perhaps by the good grades that many of their children receive, seem unaware of the trend away from the long-held and cherished tenets of public education.

Many of my middle school students who went on to attend GHCHS would return to me to complain about the practices of what was then a new charter. These visits often reflected views from students representing a wide spectrum of abilities. A genuine feeling of despair seemed to emanate from many of these young people.

Yes, GHCHS has gone on to win the Academic Decathlon and that says a lot. At the same time, however, I would frequently hear of students not being accepted for enrollment in that charter because they were deemed by charter officials, often unfairly and for who knows what reasons, not to be assets to the GH concepts of academia—in an effort, perhaps, to skew testing results in the school’s favor in the future.

My question is, Where, then, do such students go who do not make GH enrollment? What will be left for them? How will their needs be met? These are children who, when provided the opportunity and despite their individual issues, can become driving forces in their own right during their post-graduate years.

LASUD now has a superb new superintendent, Michelle King, who is well-qualified to lead the second largest district in the country (a district of nearly three quarters of a million students, 45,000 teachers, and countless classified staff). She is so much better prepared than many of her predecessors to develop the kind of programs that will fit the needs of our diverse student population.

She, like I and so many others, is extremely concerned with what I call a perversion of what free public education under charter authority could generate. Certainly, for many of us, it seems that a troubling objective of numerous charter organizations is not to be answerable to State, Federal, and current District curricular mandates. Such a focus should be very worrisome to all of us (even enthusiastic charter supporters).

Parents, blinded perhaps by the good grades that many of their children receive, seem unaware of the trend away from the long-held and cherished tenets of public education.

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It is not acceptable to look only at those students who have achieved praiseworthy results to the exclusion of the rest who have been left out altogether. Without exaggeration, this scenario frightens me as regards who benefits the most because it doesn’t allow for exceptions but seems to make decisions based sometimes upon stereotypes and at other times on pre-conceived notions.

My concern is that so many students are excluded from these charters before they even have the chance to prove themselves, due partly because earlier in their schooling they have exhibited educational and disciplinary deficiencies and, thus, have rarely been offered the chance to show their potential in these ostensibly public (but quasi-private) charters--which, by the way, demand large chunks from the District budget, depriving the remaining schools the funding they so desperately need and merit.

My complaint is largely regarding independent charters whose teachers generally have little input and no protection. So it is that teachers who are viewed as being possibly more malleable are more likely to be hired. Thus, those who dare question directed curriculum or authority are often abruptly fired without notice.

Under such formidable pressures, it becomes obvious—at least to me--that academic independence for instructors becomes squelched (unless those instructors are in lock step with their supervisors), a situation which can undoubtedly produce adverse effects in the long run on the students, let alone the teachers.

Instruction is often limited by charter directors’ ideas of what a “proper” education is. Their restrictive curricula, in my opinion, seem to lack the intellectual freedoms on the part of both teachers and students necessary to expansive, creative, and effective exchanges and learning.

As a middle school teacher myself, I often recognized brilliance in students who had a history of performing poorly and who never had the chance to demonstrate what they were capable of accomplishing. Because I believed in their potential and advocated for them, many of my low-achieving students were given the second chance they so desperately needed and turned out to be highly capable, becoming great assets not only to their high school programs but also at higher education institutions and workplace settings thereafter.

No wonder independent charters can claim their successes when those achievements are at the expense of the rest of our students. What I foresee is a country where eventually educational opportunities will be geared more for the children of those whose voices are the loudest and whose pockets are the deepest. Humbly, therefore, I assert that creating more charters is not the answer to better education.

Is the objective of the charter organizers to create two classes of citizens? A large class of workers who do the least attractive but essential work but who are nevertheless underappreciated and underpaid. And that other class that eschews as beneath them that kind of employment altogether. Are we willing to see our country become a plutocratic oligarchy—one that will lose its once unique character as it deprives the many of opportunities to attain a quality standard of living, long promised by the American Dream?

We need to rethink our acceptance of the spread of charter schools before their take-over robs our greater society of equal access and the prospect of climbing to higher ground, just as those who have already seen their boats rise (mixed metaphor?). We must not make it easy for such people to dominate and direct the course of our lives because we fail to heed the warnings and refuse to recognize the signs of such evil intentions.

Do not permit independent charter schools to expand. Support the efforts of our school board members and their new superintendent to lead the district in what promises to be an impressive new direction and one from which all its recipients will benefit--an outcome they so richly deserve!

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Rosemary Jenkins