The Progressive Parent’s Problem With Charters

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4619207236_02babcff5c_oI have a daughter going to kindergarten next year. And I am struggling with my conscience.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell.

I live in an “OK” school district. GreatSchools.org gives it 3/10. It got a D from the NC Schools Report Card last year. And while I know that there are problems with both of these rating systems, as a parent it gives me pause when I think about sending my child to school there.

And this doubt gets reaffirmed when I consider the fact that not a single parent in my neighborhood sends their child to this elementary school, even though we live in the walk zone.

I don’t live in an affluent neighborhood. None of my neighbors’ kids go to private school; they mostly go to charter schools and, sometimes, a city-wide magnet school.

But I have a few ideological issues with charters in general, and thus I am having an internal debate over elementary school.

In North Carolina, there are currently 158 charter schools, with the Office of Charter schools considering 40 applications for new schools for next year. When the state legislature lifted a cap on charter schools and eased some of the requirements in 2011, the state saw a quick uptick in the number of schools.

Charter schools are not equal to their public counterparts: they do not need to provide transportation or free/reduced meals for lower income students, and, according to Bill Anderson, the former executive director for MeckEd, this creates a tiered system whereby  “Poor kids, kids who need transportation or food services, they’re not going to be enrolling in these lotteries. It’s become a racial and economic divide.”

According to a report co-authored by Helen Ladd of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, charter schools are “increasingly serving the interests of relatively able white students in racially imbalanced schools.”

This report hits me, as a parent, right in the gut. Because it’s right on the money. Do I want to send my child to the low-performing school down the road or try to get her into one of the high-performing charters in my area? My ability to even have a choice is because I have a car, a supportive partner who co-parents, and I can afford to buy my child lunch.

But is this fair? No it isn’t. Not to all of the parents whose children will be attending my local school just down the road where, if my daughter goes there, I would be an active and involved parent.

What would it look like if all the parents in my city sent their children to their districted school? What would the Great Schools number be if parents with more education and more income opted in to our local school as their first choice instead of a last resort?  

There are a lot of problems with our educational system here in North Carolina. But the solution is not a quick fix: offering different schools isn’t going to improve those that we already have. Putting a positive spin on the state of education in North Carolina doesn’t make the bad stuff go away.

But now we are back to my conscience problem. What happens to my ideological issues when the decision about a charter school is personal? What if there is a school out there that is a great fit for my child, it is diverse, it offers meals and transportation to low-income students, and has a community of caring teachers and parents? What do I do if we somehow manage to win a spot to that school?

The lottery is in March. I’ll let you know how it all works out.




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  1. Keith Jewett

    Ms. Geil, I enjoyed your article about charter schools. However, I wonder if you know that charter schools are not usually superior to public schools. For example, teachers at charter schools do not need to be certified, and often are not. Requirements for charter schools are much more lax than for public schools, and in fact a lower-ranked public school is often superior to a charter school in faculty and program. One can not directly compare the two different types of schools because they are held to different standards.
    Respectfully, K.J.

  2. David Thompson

    Ms. Geil,

    I would encourage you to visit your neighborhood school to see the excellent programming and educational opportunities there. Test scores and letter grades do not capture how students are growing and achieving on a day-to-day basis. I work for our local school system and visited one of our “D” rated schools last week. I observed teachers taking time to develop student socially, emotionally, and academically in ways that I have not seen in some high achieving settings. A number or letter ranking should not deter you. Find out for yourself and spread the word to your neighbors and friends that public schools are the best bargain and the best value for the community.


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