*Disclaimer: The author is currently working at a charter school in the south Bronx of New York City. Although she attended a well-funded public school and strongly believes in public education, she believes that charter schools offer a positive alternative for parents in low-income neighborhoods who are seeking opportunities and a better future for their children. This piece is not intended to argue which educational system is better,rather it is intended to spark conversation regarding the necessity that education be of equal quality from neighborhood to neighborhood, state to state, and child to child.
Across the United States, if you are born in a zip code that has undergone extreme redlining, has access to poor public transportation, and is comprised of primarily minorities, it is likely your access to a great education, is also limited.
Public schools, funded directly by the tax dollars of the neighborhoods’ residents, are better in more affluent communities. The discrepancy in tax based funds favors the status of education in wealthy areas —by pulling in better educated teachers, providing better access to resources, and creating a network of support that is always there for students. All of this fuels student development, and ultimately, the scores students reach on state tests.
There is a lot of controversy around state tests. State tests are very structured and are created on the state level in order to collect big data. The controversy is primarily derived from the fact that state-tests are aligned with state-funding. Poorly funded schools are at-risk to lose federal and state funding based on their scores because they lack the resources to adequately prepare students. Despite appearing as an effective evaluation of schools, state tests may counter intuitively punish the schools that need the most support. When students do not have equal access to the same information or resources to achieve success, and school funding is based on their performance, a cycle develops that keeps underfunded schools from improving their performance.
State tests are aligned with common core initiatives; meaning students must be able to achieve a set of standards by each milestone. However, these standards can only be met if test taking strategies are being taught and the schools have access to textbooks that are released and published by the state. According to Atlantic journalist Meredith Broussard in her article, “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing,” poor schools cannot afford to buy these textbooks, many of which contain the answers that will likely be on state tests The test-makers and the textbook producers are concentrated in three companies: CTB McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Pearson. Consequently, if one has access to these up-to-date textbooks and curriculum aligned to their test-taking strategies, the student will have overall higher scores on state-testing. However if a student does not have access to these textbooks and their curriculum, he or she will be at a significant disadvantage to meet common core standards. This inaccessibility is a compounding factor amongst the walls that poor neighborhoods and schools are already up against.
Across many parts of the United States, charter schools have been the answer to these problems. For instance, in New York City, charter schools are popping up every single year in some of the city’s most underserved and underrepresented areas. Charter schools are funded similarly to public schools. Their funding is based on the amount of pupils enrolled and their average daily attendance (ADA). However, the schools must abide by set guidelines generated and approved by a board of directors and the state charter laws. Charter schools can be funded and supported by outside sources if they adhere to the guidelines. Further, charter schools also have more flexibility when it comes to creating a culture within their school since it is based on a lottery system and annual data standards.
In New York, charter schools have led to extensive rates of student success and also have helped close racial performance gaps. The test scores prove this. Students who attended charter schools in both Harlem and the Bronx, historically neighborhoods with large populations of minorities, do better than their public school counterparts. For instance, students at charter schools passed state-tests at rates 60% or higher than public schools. Not only that, but the students also passed with higher rates than white, affluent, communities within New York City.
The generic comments disputing these statistics include charter schools cherry-picking gifted students that will drive positive statistics, where public institutions are unable to weed students out. In public schools, there is opportunity to decline a student access to education, and therefore public schools are representative of a wider range of data points. In many cases, students, who cannot conform to the structured charter school setting, end up leaving or being pushed through the system to leave. The Washington Post debunked many myths about charter schools in this article, “Separating Fact from Fiction in 21 claims about Charter Schools,” and found that contrary to popular belief, charter schools are funded at lower levels than public schools. Furthermore, this article noted that although they are based on a lottery system that accepts students based on parents who enter the lottery, the reason for high success rates is largely aligned with the rigor and school environment. Students must to meet certain reading levels and complete various math standards at the end of each year. If they fail, they will be retained. The driving reason for drop out rates amongst charter schools is based on grade repetition. This results in students re-entering public schools.
Education is the way out of poverty and it is also the door to opportunity.While, the long-term solution is to recreate the whole education system, that is easier said than done. Charter schools offer a solution to an unequal education system that doesn’t perpetuate invisible walls and combats Institutionalized racism.In many ways it is the answer right now for a broken system. With educational goals based and invested in people rather than standardized tests charter schools show that when it comes to education the zip code should not matter, the people should.
Books on Education in the United states
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