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5 Charter School Truths

Education Post
January 12, 2015

By Caroline Bermudez

Charter schools are treated as monolithic, lumped together in an undifferentiated morass akin to chains of supermarkets or fast food restaurants.

But a longtime education activist says charter schools resist easy categorization in an exchange with the educator Deborah Meier on EdWeek. The blanket assertions, five in particular, tossed about them obscure what they often are: viable, worthy options for parents who may lack them.

Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change, lists five characteristics of charter schools that illustrate their purpose as fertile incubators for what can work in education.

1. Charters meet different learning styles.
A central, but often ignored, rationale for options is that all students don’t learn the same way, or have the same interests. Having different kinds of schools, as you did in East Harlem, helps increase the number of students who will reach their potential.

2. They are public schools.
The schools must be nonsectarian and not use any admissions or audition test. (That’s a big difference from elite quasi-private “magnet schools” in many large cities that use exclusively or primarily standardized tests to determine who is admitted. That’s a terrible idea.) A lottery must be used if there are more applicants than openings.

3. Civil rights matter.
Dr. Kenneth Clark’s 1968 article, “Alternative Public School Systems,” in Harvard Education Review shares that anger and desire to move beyond reliance only on local districts. Clark’s “doll test” research was cited in the Brown v. Board decision. By 1968, frustrated by many districts’ treatment of African-American students, he recommended new public schools created by groups operating OUTSIDE existing public school systems.

4. They counter racial segregation.
Many other African-American, Native American and Latino educators have started charters (that) are predominantly students of one race…there is a huge difference between assigning students to an inferior school because of their race, and giving them options.

5. Innovation abounds.
We now have charters created by groups of teachers, who are the majority of the board of directors running the school. It’s run as a workers’ cooperative. The teacher-majority board sets their salaries, working conditions, curriculum, etc. That’s real teacher empowerment.