I am a single parent of three school-age children, and I, like so many parents in DeSoto County support the Mississippi Charter School bill.
Each morning, Monday through Friday, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. to get dressed, eat and make the 17-mile drive to school. I, like so many parents in DeSoto County, cross the state line each morning to take my children to a school that best meets their needs.
I made the decision to take the kids to a school outside my district and state after three years of frustrations with the lack of attention my son was receiving in the DeSoto County School System.
From kindergarten through the second grade, he struggled like so many boys do. Reading was a huge challenge for him, so I did what any good parent would do: I hired a tutor, talked with his teacher and even his principal so that we could "make a plan." I was told time after time by his teachers that they had too many students in their classroom and couldn't take the time out to give my son the help that he needed.
There are so many children throughout our state that are slipping through the cracks of the public-school system. Our classrooms are overflowing, and our teachers are doing the best that they can in a system that is overwhelmed.
I strongly believe that charter schools would give those children who are struggling in the traditional public school system a chance to flourish and learn in the environment that best meets their needs.
I too am frustrated with what the public school system can(‘t) do for our children. Being from Memphis, I know quite well what the charter school system can offer in terms of educational alternatives. In some instances, a charter school can meet the needs of some students where the neighborhood school can (or will) not. Thank God that you found a charter school that met the needs of your son.
But, here is the challenge that we as a community have to ask ourselves, can the schools we presently have serve our students better? If so, with what interventions and investments (devoid of politics)? If not, then is the cost of a charter school (not just financially, but civically as well) worth the benefit it will have for a few students? I know that sounds like “triage-ing” for the sake of the larger community, but it is a real question charter supporters seem to either not address or don’t address fully enough to ease my conscience.
The Charter school option is supposed to provide innovation to the larger district. What it has become is simply skimming better prepared or supported and motivated students away from the neighborhood schools and a horrible re-segregator of schools. Even in Memphis, which is already over 85% black with students due to white flight, the charter schools are more racially segregated than the public schools, which is a trend that is observed nationwide.
Also, there is no guarantee that a charter school will be any more effective than a public school in meeting the diverse needs of students. A charter school’s effectiveness depends on the people and programs at the school, just like in any neighborhood school. Speaking of Memphis, more charter schools have been closed than opened over the past couple of years. While I agree that charter schools do offer options, communities should weight those options in light of their needs and resources available in each community. Charter school corporations like to target mostly urban areas with large populations so that they can solicit donations for resources to supplement the public funds they receive. In Mississippi, especially in the so called “under-performing” districts, these communities are largely rural and poor. I wouldn’t be surprised to only see charter schools thrive in areas like Jackson, Tupelo, Hattiesburg; areas where , though there are struggling schools, the districts themselves are successful. I doubt we see many charter schools in places like Sardis, Drew, or Hazlehurst, where options are needed the most. It is just not enough resources in those communities to support a charter school, and what you’d have in the neighborhood school is less than what you had before the charter came, due to the decrease per pupil expenditure (this could happen as some previously private schooled or home schooled children present themselves for enrollment in charter schools).
So, while I applaud your concern for the education of your child, I think communities are better served to invest in the existing neighborhood schools to create a better context for learning for all students, rather than siphoning off already limited funding for schooling to set up a charter school that has just a good a chance of doing better than your neighborhood school than not. But hey, I ain’t a gambling man, so take my perspective with a grain of salt.
- Renaldo Bryant
Most people agree that we have to save the public schools in order to save ALL of the students in the state. The question that people can't seem to answer is what are families supposed to do in the meantime? Renaldo Bryant, what do you recommend Ms. Powell to do right now? Keep sending her son to the school that doesn't meet her child's needs? Cross county or state lines to find better options? Private or home school? All the recent talks of education reform seem to be long-term solutions for the greater good of those who are not yet in the school systems.
I agree that we have to find solutions and support for the public schools, but what should parents like Ms. Powell do in the meantime?
- News Junkie
You are right News junkie,
Most of the opposition to Charter schools are is grounded in trying to find long term, systemic solutions to problems with public schooling, and charter schools simply are not solutions to these problems. Ms. Cannon is well within her right, or any parent for that matter, to find the best solution for their children, individually. If the school is not responsive, a child’s education is too important to leave to that chance. If Ms. Cannon found a solution in a charter school, by all means it should be supported. But her individual solution is different from a long term, systemic solution. Especially considering that it is no guarantee that a charter school in Desoto county will meet her child’s needs simply because it is a charter school. Given that reality, should the Schools in Desoto county simply allow for charter schools to come in, skim good students away (along with public funds)so that a few students could have a different context that may or may not be beneficial? Or, should the community try to help the school system offer a variety of educational contexts under which different students could thrive (magnet schools, ability grouping, curriculum compacting, Early college options, etc.)?
Also, I wonder if indeed the school in Desoto county actually admitted that they simply had too many children in order to meet her child’s needs. There is more to the story than that. As an educator, I can tell you that the age of “educational accountability” has created a culture where if a child struggles academically, the community and the parents assume that the school is simply failing their child, and disregard the role that students must play in achieving academic success. Schooling and instruction can be better, but simply because a child struggles academically doesn’t mean a school has not done all it can to help that child. I’m not saying this is the case in Ms. Cannon’s situation, but I just find it hard to believe that a district will tell a parent that we have too many students, so we cannot help your child. The school may not do all a parent wants them to do, but that doesn’t mean they are not doing all they can t help. Maybe a smaller class size is what her child needed, and that is what the child is getting at the charter school, if so, God bless it. My stance is that a charter school doesn’t serve smaller school system well. A System like Memphis can with stand charter schools because they have so many students (over 100K) that 5,000 or so can be skimmed off for charter schools and it not make a dent in the per-pupil expenditure. But a 5% cut of f of, say the 1500 students in Aberdeen, plus any that would come from Private and home schooling, would make a serious dent in the per-pupil expenditure there. All I am saying is the cost worth it to these communities?
- Renaldo Bryant
There are some really good points made in the letter and in the comments that follow it. I think the discussion is getting to the heart of the arguments for and against allowing charter schools in Mississippi. Renaldo Bryant especially, in making the point that professional educators are more concerned by what charter schools will cost them in terms of funds for the regular public school on a per pupil basis. I understand that point but I also believe that this particular negative effect would be mitigated by lowering the class size in the regular public school, giving those students more attention from the instructors, and by bringing in those students with parents who now send them to private schools or other charter schools like the Author of the letter, who are the kind of involved parents with resources that help districts succeed. And who also would be more apt to vote for bond proposals and higher taxes if their children benefited directly from them.
His point that schools are not always at fault when a student struggles is well taken. The school isn't always at fault. Sometimes students struggle for a myriad of reasons. And sometimes charter schools fail. There is not one solution to the problem of why a school fails or why a student struggles. So why then do the professional educators like Renaldo Bryant think that the one public school solution they are offering will work when it is already failing? At least Mr. Bryant is honest enough to say it straight out. It means less money and control for them. There are many solutions to this complex problem and charter schools are the first step to exploring different options for educating kids. A vote against charter schools is a vote against the diversity of ideas in education. Against the idea that what works for one student may not work for others.
I am not suggesting that the main concern with charter schools is money and control, but rather it is with their effectiveness in solving the problems they claim they address, student achievement, dropout prevention, etc. There is no evidence that simply starting a charter school will have any impact whatsoever on overall student achievement in a district. The charter must have sound leadership, instruction, as well as parental and community support, the same as with any public school. The main distinction with charter schools is that if they do not get the cooperation and involvement of their students and parents, then they can exclude those students from the program. The issues I bring up with funding highlight the risks involved with implementing a charter school program in any district in MS. How can we stand by and say that charters are part of the answer without any evidence to support that premise?
Charters are supposed to offer innovation to the larger school district. That is their value to the district. The lawmakers in MS (spurred on by lobbyists from charter corporations or ALEC I’m sure) insist now that charters won’t necessarily offer more innovation, but other “academic options” for parents and students. What this simply means is more segregation, mainly along class and racial lines. The challenge we have as public educators is that what many parents perceive as “better” schooling involves highly homogenous student populations. This, in reality, is what makes options like private schools and charter schools so attractive to many parents, especially parents of means. Segregated schooling is not “better” schooling simply because it is segregated. What we need is to provide more options for students’ diverse needs and desires in our public schools. Things like magnet schools, ability groups, interest groups, independent study/research projects, curriculum options and multiple courses of study would better reflect the diverse student populations we serve. These options are much more pragmatic for our many smaller, rural districts than imposing a charter school that will offer little more than segregation and questionable outcomes as best, considering the unlevel playing field they desire to compete on.
So WMartin, understand that I am not advocating for the status quo in education, but for true community based reform (most of our educational problems arise out of hyper segregated school districts characterized by residential segregation and the resulting concentration of poverty-which no charter school supporter has addressed). In order for districts to impact more students with diverse needs, we need schools that can accommodate a diversity of students. Charter schools specialize in meeting the needs of a certain type of student, with different schools aiming for different types of students. If we have to open a school for every type of learner or interest, is that really sustainable?
- Renaldo Bryant