Saving Public Education: Quality Education for All

November 21, 2012

Yes, there are some charter schools out there who are doing great things.

But across the board, charter schools are not outperforming traditional public schools (specific examples: ChicagoNYCNJ).

My biggest “bone to pick” is the fact that some of these “great” charter schools are helping a few, while leaving many, many of our deserving children behind.

Yes, parents should have a voice in the type of school their children attends.

But what if all schools were schools parents wanted their children to go, where wanting a choice wouldn’t even be necessary?

Why advocate for new schools when you can advocate for change?

As someone put it perfectly, charter schools are “band-aids for a seeping wound.” Charter schools may solve a problem temporarily, but we need to look past temporary solutions, and aim to fix the real problem at hand. We need to start working together to create positive, effective, and permanent change.

Imagine. What if all the collective effort, energy, and funds that go into creating more charter schools went into effectively addressing our public schools on terms of what the students, teachers, and community needs? Not “turning them around.” Our students and public schools don’t need “turning around,” they need someone who will listen to what they need. Why are we not helping our public schools, and instead taking them over and attacking them for their “failure”? Why not help our public schools, where majority of our nation’s children will inevitably have to go?

See: Student walkout starts week of “turnaround” protest at Grady, Bronx Students & Parents Call to End Controversial Turnaround ModelBrandon High School in Michigan students protest teacher layoffs, privatization

Full list of 2012 student protests regarding education can be found here.

Why don’t we ask those who will be feeling the impact of education reform and education policy the most what they want, what they want to see change, rather than telling them what they need? Many of us who want to implement change are from the outside, we will never fully understand and grasp what their unique community goes through on an everyday basis–their voices must be amplified, and must be acknowledged when implementing changes that will affect the heart of their community.

And what about the students who don’t get into these schools?

I know many of you have seen Waiting For Superman, but come on. Pause and think about this for a second, in the year 2012 we are holding lotteries to determine if the children we are raising can get a good education.

It is a shame that we not only let happen, but shame on the fact that it is glorified in a movie (See: Not Waiting For Superman).

Yes, I understand that not all charter schools hold lotteries, but that doesn’t take away the fact that they are still happening somewhere.

And the essence of a lottery is not totally dismissed in the communities where they don’t hold them.

Because think about the families who don’t hear about the application to applying to a charter school–or even know how to go about applying.

What about the families whose native language isn’t English, but the application only comes in English–what about them?

What about the students who get kicked out of the charter schools for not getting good enough test scores? The students who are bringing down the schools’ overall test score average, thus making it harder for charter schools to “prove” that they are better than traditional public schools?

Why does receiving a quality education (a given right) have to be a competition?

And even further, what about our special needs students? Why are charter schools’ arms not as open to them as they are to higher-performing students? (Also see: Charter schools underserve special needs students, NYTimes: In Charter Schools, Fewer With Disabilities, WSJ: Charter Schools Fall Short on Disabled)

Charter schools are taking the most privileged of the underprivileged, leaving students who need the most attention and quality education behind.

The main point I’m getting at is, every single child in the United States deserves a quality education, not a select lucky few.

Yes, I understand that the quality of education in traditional public schools varies significantly. BUT, the given fact that public schools are where the majority of our students will be attending, there should be an impassioned national effort to fight this inequity among this public good and established given right. Again, I recognize that charter schools are capable of doing good things, but it is difficult to claim that there will be enough “high-performing” charter schools to bring forth educational equity. We are detracting from the issue at hand, and instead taking detours that bring us further from addressing the needs of our students. We should be looking at approaches that will promote educational equity and equal opportunity for all of our students–permanently. Not expanding institutions that make such a goal increasingly impossible. I do respect those parents and students who do praise the success of charter schools. I do not blame any of the concerned parents who puts their children in charter schools hoping for better and just want their children to succeed. But, if we are ever going to reach educational equity in this country, we must stop looking at temporary and faulty solutions, solutions that will not be addressing our overall population of students. Quality education is a right, quality education should not have to depend on luck. Quality education should be equally accessible to all students, not just the lucky few.

P.S. To folks in NJ: I also suggest you take a look at what Commissioner of Education, Christopher Cerf, is trying to do with charter schools. He wants to expand charter schools, change their mission, and many other changes without going through the charter process, thus violating the charter law in NJ

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Teacher Under Construction

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Stephanie Rivera

Stephanie Rivera is a student at Rutgers University. She is a future teacher and educational equity activist.