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Charter school newbie question

Charter school newbie question

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Greetings! I am a school board member in rural Maine. We are in a bad spot right now because of declining enrollments, and this year will begin the process of deciding to close a school. I have decided to try and convince my colleagues that instead of closing a school, we should pilot a school-wide program akin to the Rocketship Education model schools in California. My question is this: why is discussion of school-wide innovation so pervasive in the charter school context, and not in a district-wide context? Defenders of charter schools prize their independence from school districts, which I can understand if the school districts are traditional and stodgy. But wouldn't it be best to bring those innovations to ALL students -- not just the ones in the charter school? Why don't I read about challenging school boards INSTEAD of opening charter schools? I'm not trying to be antagonistic. I believe Maine law even prevents us from considering charter schools. I have originally thought that the charter school model exists to pilot programs, so that a case can be made for district-wide change, but now I'm seeing that the schools are ends to themselves. I just think this is too easy, that we have to move forward with the hard job of changing school practices for EVERY public school child. What am I missing here? I'm sure there's something. :) Lisa Cooley

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Chad Sansing's picture
Chad Sansing
Charter school humanities teacher for non-traditional middle grade learners

I apologize as humbly as I possibly can.

That's a great question, Lisa. Charter schools are a fairly disruptive change right now and can sometimes operate in ways that radically challenge the status quo in local schools, which may not be structured, staffed, or funded in such a way as to take advantage of what works at a charter school. I suspect that there's not a lot of listening between charter schools and traditional public schools in some markets right now because of antagonistic relationships, real and imagined.

I love the Maine Enterprise Schools model - have you checked it out yet?

All the best,

Lisa J. Cooley's picture
Lisa J. Cooley
School Board member, parent of 2 public school students.

Sorry in turn -- I didn't see your post till now!

I have to think about this issue in light of the stuff I've been hearing, particularly in the great forum Edutopia hosted yesterday. I'm in the middle of the recorded play-back now. Charter schools seem to play a big role in this conflict between the mainstream attack on teachers and those who defend teachers and name the system itself as the problem. I'm not sure if the existence of charter schools is a. a right-wing attack on public schools, intending to privatize the public school system for the haves over the have-nots or b. the only place where true innovation can be demonstrated and replicated.

It seems like it's really not black-and-white, and I hate when that happens! :)

Of course, I was educated in the traditional model where you were either right or wrong and grey area was discouraged! :)

hjorgensen's picture

The difference between charter schools and traditional districts is that charter schools are upheld to higher standards then traditional schools as their funding comes from unused educational funding that schools give up every year as unused money. They have more autonomy to change things up because they are not beholden to stagnant school boards and districts that can not address issues quickly as there are so many community members that are tied to schools. Charter schools are small public-private systems in which they focus solely upon their clientele (families and students) they can therefore make adjustments as the school sees fit and they are tied down by unions. Teachers are also held to higher standards because they do not have union protection and most have contracts that are renewed yearly. This also allows schools to put more money into education as opposed to pensions. They address student needs in a timely manner in which they are data rich and address issues in a timely fashion that is supported by FTE and Title money.

Mark Hazelton's picture

In addition to the other ideas put forth here, I would add that the work and skill necessary to make a change in a school is related to the size of the school. As the size of the school goes up or even the size of a district, the amount of effort and skill to make a change goes up. As the necessary effort and skill goes up, fewer and fewer people have the energy and skill to make the changes happen. I think then that there are fewer and fewer great changes happening in larger entities. I am a successful charter school developer and innovator. However, I doubt that I could step into the shoes of the school superintends that I know or even the shoes of the principal of a large school and make innovation happen.

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