Charter Schools on the Way? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Charter Schools on the Way?

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The Legislature will likely consider bills during this session aimed at creating more charter schools in Mississippi.

While new legislation is just now beginning to roll out at the state capitol, education advocates and lawmakers are talking about potential bills to lower the requirements for traditional public schools to become charter schools.

Under a Mississippi law passed in 2010, schools must be rated low performing or lower for three consecutive years before they can be turned into charter schools. Then, at least half the parents at the school must petition the state Board of Education to create a charter school.

On Monday, Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, introduced a bill to allow new charter schools to be formed, instead of only granting charters to failing schools.

Charter schools receive public funding, but have more leeway to try new teaching methods. Charter-school advocates say the more pliable structure allows for innovation that helps children learn.

Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he hopes the Legislature will allow for more charter schools in the upcoming session.

"Sometimes kids, just like you and me, react differently to different environments," he said. "... Let's give it a try; we've never tried it."

Mississippi lawmakers have the benefit of looking at what other states have tried in crafting their own legislation, Tollison said. One well-known group of charter schools is the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, which has a school in West Helena, Ark., just across the border from the Mississippi Delta. Tollison hopes charter schools could get more Teach for America teachers who are interested in charter schools into Mississippi classrooms.

"These charter schools are still public schools, it's just a different way--a 21st-century way--of educating children," he said. "We are still in a 19th-century way of educating children."

Charter schools are a different delivery system to help students learn, he said.

"It's just like delivering music. I used to listen to records and cassette tapes, and now I listen to iTunes," Tollison said, adding that education evolves in a similar way. "If somebody out there can do a better job educating kids, then let's give it a try."

Nationwide, charter schools' results are mixed, with some performing much better than their traditional counterparts and some performing much worse.

While the Blueprint Mississippi 2011 report on the state's economy gives a cautious recommendation to make use of charter schools in Mississippi, some are hesitant to completely endorse broader charter school legislation.

Oleta Fitzgerald, southern regional director for the Children's Defense Fund, served on the educational achievement subcommittee for the Blueprint report.

"The recommendation of charter schools came at the tail end of the process, and it really was not thoroughly discussed by members of the education subcommittee," she said. "So there is some reticence about that recommendation from some members of the subcommittee."

Fitzgerald said that if the state does seek to create more charter schools, it must be careful that the system is fair to all children, and that the charter schools serve children who are currently in the public-school system. She is concerned that charter schools, which operate under fewer state restrictions than traditional public schools, might institute policies that could make it easier to push out lower-performing students, or that they sap limited funding from other schools.

"While we recognize that charter schools are probably coming to Mississippi, we have to be very careful that the implementation of a charter school program does not negatively impact the ability of public schools to function," she said. "... (We must make sure) that resources are not pulled away from the public school system for a subset of children and you leave the rest of the system with even less funding."

Comment at http://www.jfp.ms.

Previous Comments

ID
165839
Comment

"It's just like delivering music. I used to listen to records and cassette tapes, and now I listen to iTunes," Tollison said, adding that education evolves in a similar way. "If somebody out there can do a better job educating kids, then let's give it a try." Why not implement those different methods in the existing school systems?

Author
vince
Date
2012-01-25T12:48:57-06:00
ID
165841
Comment

testy

Author
Renaldo Bryant
Date
2012-01-25T13:58:04-06:00
ID
165843
Comment

Hello, I am the poster formerly known as "Blackwatch". I will say this, many educators complain about restrictions and regulations that prevent them from doing what they deem necessary to educate certain types of students. Thus, charter schools demand less oversight and regulation in order to do their jobs and employ their methods. The theoretical function of charter schools is to allow for the schools to try innovations that, if successful with certain types of learners, could be scalable in the general population of students. Too often, those charter schools that are effective utilize methods and structures that are impractical for broader implementation in a district. For instance, the KIPP program mandates that all teachers be on call 24/7 with cell phones and that parents volunteer at least 20 hours a semester in the schools. Can you mandate that for every teacher and every parent in say Hazlehurst or Indianola? I think not. Besides, public school educators already know that more dedicated teachers and committed and active parents will enhance the educational experiences in all schools. The challenge is how you create these realities, in a context such as a whole district or community? Also, the charter schools require that there be a public school in the areas that will accept the students that they cannot or will not teach. In other words, they do not teach every and any student. It is rare that a charter school will even agree to try and teacher students with disabilities. So, their methods, while effective with the students they choose to teach, are not scalable for the most part. Even when the admissions are granted on a lottery basis, any student that does not agree to the policies or does not do what is asked, is moved out ( akin to what Ms. Fitzgerald was noting in the story). Thus, the utility of the charter school for the general school and community is quite diminished. For the students that get in a successful, well managed charter school and thrive, God bless them and the school is well worth it for them. But, from a public schooling perspective, the charter has very limited usefulness. The general school population doesn’t get the benefit of research, heightened innovation, and better overall student achievement simply because it has a charter school within its boundaries. Charter schools are good in theory, but they are not a silver bullet. Most times, supporters see charters as a better option simply because it allows for political leaders to point to what is supposedly a cheaper alternative to the perceived wastefulness and ineffectiveness of public schools in struggling communities. In reality, the answers to the public school dilemma lie more in community development and economic reforms, not heightened accountability and so called “competition” from charter schools.

Author
Renaldo Bryant
Date
2012-01-25T14:40:34-06:00
ID
165846
Comment

Charter schools are not the answer for our schools. They are the answer for corporations wanting to make money. KIP and other businesses make money by taking state and local tax dollars. No - charter schools do NOT save money. I would like to see the data that charters save money. Charters can kick children out for almost any reason, which is how some obtain high test scores. What about the special needs children in your community? Charters won't accept them. Why don't we just implement the "good" part of charters in our current schools? And Teach for America teachers are not the answer either. They've had 6 weeks of training on how to be a teacher. Most TFA teachers quit because of the unexpected demands and their inability to teach. Unexperienced teachers who have no idea what to do in a classroom are not good for our children. Some TFA teachers can be very good teachers, but the majority are not. Let's focus on real reform in our schools rather than schemes for corporations to make money by running our schools.

Author
Kathleen Collins Olivieri
Date
2012-01-25T17:49:49-06:00
ID
165850
Comment

@kathleeen Collins Olivieri "Let's focus on real reform in our schools rather than schemes for corporations to make money by running our schools." AMEN, AMEN , and AMEN!

Author
justjess
Date
2012-01-25T21:05:20-06:00
ID
165851
Comment

It seems that the highest performing nation in education is not Japan, Singapore, South Korea or any of the usual experts. Finland has that distinction and they don't do high stakes testing. They concentrate on equality and not excellance nd the results are astounding. Interesting. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/#.TwSSdstIAGU.email

Author
FrankMickens
Date
2012-01-26T03:51:23-06:00
ID
165852
Comment

@Kathleen Collins Olivieri The point about Charter schools saving money is what makes charter schools appealing to many politicians. I don’t know for sure that every charter school saves money, but one of the selling points of most charter schools is that they can educate the same kids that public schools try to educate for less money per student. They do this by creating “efficiencies” in how they pay teachers, procure curricular resources, and other building and administrative costs. I agree that charters cannot replace real educational reform. But the question I have is what does real, “doable” reform look like?

Author
Renaldo Bryant
Date
2012-01-26T09:19:43-06:00
ID
165853
Comment

Of note: Arizona's superior court just upheld a ruling deeming Education savings accounts as constitutional. The pure net savings aren't there from the standpoint of the State, but it sounds like a very very interesting idea. 90% of the per-pupil funding into an account to be used for educational purposes of the parents liking? That's a pro-choice i can get behind 100% http://goldwaterinstitute.org/article/superior-court-upholds-education-savings-accounts

Author
RobbieR
Date
2012-01-26T10:17:54-06:00
ID
165877
Comment

Most Charter Schools pay their administrators outrageous salaries. Many charter schools receive funds from foundations such as the Gates Foundation - funds that are not your tax dollars and therefore, cost the taxpayers less. Most charter schools that are successful provide a huge number of "wrap around" social services that have nothing and everything to do with education (if you have no place to live, a child is worried about that and not a math problem). Most charter schools have a good learning environment because they don't have to deal with all children (behavior problems, parents not participating, learning disabilities). If we are serious about saving money in our public schools, stop giving so much money to the testing companies!!!! Pearson is making record profits because the US wants to test, test, test. We pay Pearson to create the test, print the test, provide study guides, score the test, etc. Follow the money and you will discover that a huge amount of your tax dollars are spent on testing directly and also indirectly in the form of consultants, extra staff just for testing, staff to create 9 weeks tests that align with the standard test, etc. The heavy emphasis on testing is not helping our children. We need to return to TEACHING, not testing. Charter schools are not the answer to help our children and our communities to thrive.

Author
Kathleen Collins Olivieri
Date
2012-01-27T08:06:42-06:00
ID
165888
Comment

Kathleen, the Harlem community may disagree with you. And how can you discount the charter school possibility before it is even attempted?

Author
RobbieR
Date
2012-01-27T14:10:35-06:00
ID
165899
Comment

RobbieR - you ask valid questions. First, charter schools are being attempted. Based upon the results of current charter schools, I am discounting the idea that charter schools are good for the children of Mississippi. Second - A Harlem model in Mississippi would be awesome! Did you know that Harlem is part of a initiative that wants to eliminate poverty in their community? Lots of financial resources are available to that community through the school. The school also provides after school care, a chef who prepares healthy meals, students’ free health and dental care (they have medical facilities in the school - including an asthma program). Their budget for the most famous charter school in Harlem is 95 million for 1400 students. The class size is around 15, with 2 certified teachers in the classroom. Why can't we replicate that model in Mississippi? First, it would take huge financial resources. At the charter mentioned above, 2/3 of their budget is from private donations including Goldman-Sachs. Only 1/3 of the budget comes from the public. Further, this charter school dismissed children in one entire grade. "students that started then, as sixth graders, was dismissed by the board en masse before reaching the ninth grade after it judged the students’ performance too weak to found a high school on." So, the school wasn't successful and they got rid of the students. Pretty convenient - and that can happen in charter schools. Sad. Harlem's actions tell us that the entire community must be looked at when creating charter schools. Poverty effects education. Harlem is trying to look at the real problem (poverty) while educating kids. When comparing charter schools with public schools, one must be certain the comparisons include classroom instruction or the large amount of social "wrap around" services to the children and community. http://millermps.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/more-on-harlem-childrens-zone-and-geoffrey-canada/

Author
Kathleen Collins Olivieri
Date
2012-01-29T10:32:36-06:00

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