In a 1A story today by reporter Johnny Woodard, school board candidate Rodney Hassler explains why charter schools might be a much-needed option for parents of school-age children in Scotland County.
Hassler’s remarks are in stark contrast to his opponents in the school board race — Terence Williams and Pat Gates.
Neither Gates or Williams appear to be fans of the charter school concept.
Gates said the words ‘charter schools’ and ‘vouchers’ will dismantle the public school system as we know it. Williams was equally as pessimistic, saying that that localized charter schools represent a step back for education for the county.
Hassler and a lot of others disagree.
Hassler described the bad mouthing of charter schools as a fear tactic aimed at scaring people. According to Hassler, charter schools give parents an desirable alternative. “How can you be against a parent’s right to choose for their child?” he said.
Hassler’s query is a good one.
But a better question is whether charter schools are really a viable option to traditional public schools?
If charter schools are going to better prepare students for high school and college, shrink economic and racial achievement gaps and improve class size, they should be supported.
But in a lot of places across the country, that is not happening. Studies have found that charter schools are rarely much better — and in some cases a lot worse — than regular public schools.
For example, the Michigan-based National Heritage Academies, which operates more than 70 charter schools across the country, including the five in North Carolina, which had test scores very similar to public schools in our state. The math and reading end-of-grade test scores for 2010-11 for those five charter schools shows an average of 83.1 percent of white students passing and 48.1 percent of black students passing. Statewide, 82.8 of white students and 53.3 percent of blacks passed EOG tests.
There is also the accountability aspect. While charter schools are financed with public money, North Carolina law does not require them to report to local school boards. If parents want to offer a policy suggestion or even make a grievance, they have no elected official to turn to.
The parent could go to the charter’s board of directors, though board members aren’t required by the charter school act to reside in the community or even the state.
Parents do have the option of returning to the traditional schools, but the charter school will keep whatever funding was allotted for that student for the school year. While we are on the subject of money, possibility of sending Scotland County’s public funding to some out-of-state for-profit company also make charter schools less than ideal.
In traditional public schools teachers must be licensed, but charters are less rigorous with 50 percent of their middle and high school teachers and 25 percent of elementary teachers allowed to be unlicensed.
In addition, charter school employees can be fired without receiving a hearing. The schools are also not required to participate in the state employees’ retirement or health plans.
Just those few concerns make the prospect of charter schools troublesome. Traditional public education is far from perfect. But trading it for an alternative as dicey as charter school is a big mistake.