I decided to do my essay on charter schools because of an article I read on charter schools located in Mississippi. I am from that state, and in August 2005 I will retire from the military and I plan to teach school in that state. I wasn’t surprised to find the Mississippi has the nation’s weakest charter school laws. It is also ranked number 38 and it has failed for the 5th straight year in CER’s stat by state ranking of charter school laws because it simply offers no real charter environment at all. The first time I heard of charter schools was when I started this program at Troy State and I wanted find out more information about these schools and why some are working and others aren’t. My current trend assignment will be Charter Schools.
What are Charter Schools?
Charter schools are independent public schools, designed and operated by educators, parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs and others. They are sponsored by designated local or state educational organizations who monitor their quality and integrity, but allow them to operate freed from the traditional bureaucratic and regulatory red tape that hog ties public schools. Freed from such micromanagement, charter schools design and deliver programs tailored to educational excellence and community needs. Because they are schools of choice, they are held to the highest level of accountability.
The key appeal of the charter school concept is its promise of increased accountability for student achievement in exchange for increased school autonomy. Freed from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools, charter schools set their own achievement and performance goals, for which they are held accountable by their sponsor. Additionally, as schools of choice, charter must satisfy the parents and students who choose them. Charter sponsors, or authorizers, weigh in at three intervals: evaluation of applications, ongoing monitoring or oversight, and renewal of charters at the end of their term (usually 3-5 years, 15 in Arizona). Charter school developers can lay the groundwork for accountability during the application phase by clearly defining the schools’ measurable goals, the assessments to be used, and expected levels of student performance and progress.
Since the charter school movement began, this idea of accountability for results has taken hold throughout the country. In 1994, Congress reauthorized Title I to emphasize accountability for the academic learning of students served through that program. Additionally, in the last few years all states have passed accountability laws or taken steps to develop accountability systems. These systems include policies mandating proficiency test to "end social promotion," high school exit exams, and state required standardized tests tied to consequences for schools, principals, teachers, and students.
How are charter schools funded?
Charter schools are public schools. Most charter are created by groups of educators, parents and community leaders. Some have been concerted from existing public schools. This is what happened in Mississippi. I found that in one school they even left the same faculty. This is one of the reason’s I believe this school continues to fail. A small number of charter schools were once private schools. Like district public schools, they are funded according to enrollment, (also called average daily attendance, or ADA), and receive funding from the district and the state according to the number of students attending. However, in a number of states, they do not receive the full equivalent of their district counterparts. Minnesota charters only receive the state portion (about 75% of a district school’s total per-pupil allocation); charters in New Jersey and Colorado also receive les than 100% of the per-pupil funding. In other states, charter must negotiate their funding in their charter contract, often below the level of funding of their district counterparts.
Unlike traditional district schools, most charter schools do not receive funding to cover cost of securing a facility. Conversion schools begin with established capital, namely the school and its facilities. A few state provide capital funding to start-up schools, and some start-up schools are able to take over a available unused district space, but mostly rely on other, independent means. Recent federal legislation provides funding to help charter with start-up costs, but the task remains imposing.
How do charter schools manage if they are under funded?
Many charter schools improvise by converting spaces such as rented retail facilities, former churches, lofts and warehouses, into classroom, cafeteria, assembly and gym space, supplemented by the local YMCA, the public library, and public parks. Once they are established they are able to acquire loans and move to more suitable or permanent facilities. State legislation and loan agencies are beginning to tackle this problem by providing start up funding and providing charter schools with the information needed to obtain favorable loans.
Why are charter schools so popular?
Charters provide opportunity for better child centered education. They provide the chance for communities to create the greatest range of educational choices for their children. Operators have the opportunity and the incentive to create schools that provide new and better services to students. And charters, bound only by the high standards they have set for themselves, inspire the rest of the system to work harder and be more responsive to the needs of the children.
Contracts with Parents and Students
Dozens of charter schools enter into various forms of contracts with parents and students. The form and content of these agreements vary widely. In some schools, these contracts are quite general in nature and merely outline some of the expectations of the schools regarding student conduct and parent involvement in their children’s education. In other schools, these contracts may be quite specific and contain very specific support or involvement requirements. Still other schools enter into contracts with parents and students that outline the obligations and responsibilities of both the school and the parent/student. Though some people criticize these contracts, others view them as an essential ingredient of an effective parent and student involvement policy.
Identifying Standards and Goals
Successful charter developers clearly specify the standards and goals their students will be expected to achieve. They identify what students should know and what they should be able to do in all learning areas at critical points in their education. Most states have content standards, and some have performance standards, which charter schools need to address. These state requirements should not supplement the charter school’s goals, but should be used as a floor upon which to build an educational program that addresses the charter school’s mission. Together, the standards and goals become the focus of the school’s design, development, oversight, and renewal process. They must be specific and measurable.
My Position on Charter Schools
Mississippi’s charter schools are failing and I am still an advocate for charter schools. I believe that charter schools can have a significant, positive impact on youngsters. The charter school movement brings together four powerful concepts: freedom and choice for families, entrepreneurial opportunities for educators, explicit accountability for schools, and thoughtful, fair competition for public school districts. The charter school movement is an expansion of opportunity. It is about hope and possibility. It is vital to work toward a more just society that prizes all young people and helps strengthen every family. While reading many articles on charter schools, I learned that they can have a positive impact on student achievement, attendance, and attitude. Many charter proposals focus on low and moderate- income families and youngsters.
One of the most important and powerful elements of an effective and successful school is its positive culture. In a school with a well defined and shared focus on student learning, staff and students are more likely to work toward the specific goals and mission of the school. When students, teachers, parents, the key stakeholders in the school’s success – have a strong sense of commitment to the school, they are more likely to work collectively toward the mission of the school. In a strong and positive school culture, motivation is more potent and energized. Teachers and students in such schools have a desire to work hard, put forth effort, and persevere. It may sound like I’m dreaming, but I truly believe that if students and staff work, learn and grow together; they become part of a vigorous learning community.
Since policymakers have instituted charter schools to be free from the bureaucratic binds of state rules, each school is free to develop a unique mission. A mission designed to serve their specific population of students, staff, and parents toward realizing the school’s mission. Vision and mission are based on the charter of the school and help define the focus of the school. All are working toward the same ends. It is extremely important for school leaders, staff, and students to help shape and maintain a positive culture that reinforces the vision and mission of the school. I saw this in the Minnesota New Country School.
New County School
A group of fifty people including teachers, administrators, parents, students, business and government leaders, and school board members came together for a weekend of dreaming, planning, and prioritizing for the future of their school district. They wanted expanded opportunities for innovation and parent involvement. They eventually formed the Minnesota New Country School.
Those who planned the school proposed a very different way to offer high school education. The school, which is open year round, is based on five cornerstones: extensive parent involvement, teacher/student accountability, use of the community as a place to learn, enhanced technology, and the Essential Principles of the Coalition of Schools. Teachers truly are facilitators. They work with an advisory group to help to design projects and learning activities, they monitor student progress, and they meet with parents. Each student and his/her parent meet with an advisor in August to develop an individual learning plan for the coming year. This plan is a guide for the intellectual, social, and physical growth.
The design of the Minnesota New Country School reflects a very different approach to schooling. The school is founded on the beliefs that young people have a strong desire to learn, that faith in that desire needs to be restored, and that it can be restored through sensible, involved, caring program. I was so inspired by this article that I am seriously thinking of starting a charter school myself, when I retire from the military. I would love this type of atmosphere for my son. I am a very involved parent, but I am afraid I don’t have much to work with in the military community where there are no choices or competition with schools.
In addition to the positive pressure they put on the public school system as a whole, charter schools satisfy and serve their primary constituents (teachers, parents, and students) by providing exciting and viable new educational in an inclusive individual manner. The Center for Education Reform’s 1997-1998 Charter School Survey found that 65% of the charter surveyed had a waiting list, averaging 135 students.
What changes need to occur in our society and educational system before positive outcomes can occur?
I truly believe that a carefully designed and well carried out accountability plan ensures that charter schools meet their obligations in terms of student performance and school operations, and creates a powerful tool for ongoing learning and improvement. Accountability efforts are most effective when the school and its community work together to set out clear goals and then use student performance data to continuously improve teaching and learning.
Approaches to charter school accountability vary from state to state and from sponsor to sponsor. Most charters are monitored for financial responsibility, student achievement, student attendance, and compliance with state and federal regulations.
In today’s society, people believe that schools can have a significant positive impact on children. The charter school movement brings together four powerful concepts that is buring through American society like a wildfire. They are freedom and choice for families, entrepreneurial opportunities for educators, explicit accountability for schools and thoughtful fair competition for public school districts. Parents and students tend to choose charter schools because of their dissatisfaction with public schools. Parents and students are attracted to charter schools because of their high standards, small size, and supportive environment. Program flexibility or a highly structured school environment is also important.