Charter Schools — Breaking up is hard to do
by Roger Hines
Columnist
October 21, 2012 02:10 AM | 8804 views | 7 7 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On the issue of the charter school amendment that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, I’m breaking rank. I’ve got to. To be honest, it hurts. It hurts because those from whom I’m breaking rank are people I respect and appreciate, people among whom I’ve worked for four decades and with whom I’ve labored to make education better.

I must break rank from the educational establishment and support the constitutional amendment because the time has come for a new order. Just who or what is the old order? The old order — in all 50 states, actually — is each state’s teachers’ association (whether union or non-union), the state’s school administrators’ organization and each state’s Department of Education. Add the illicit, intrusive federal Department of Education plus the influence of college education professors, and you get not just an establishment, but a monolith; one that, despite the good intentions of its leaders, is not academics-centered, but institution/regulation-centered.

There is no doubt that the charter school movement constitutes a chipping away at the old order. It is a legitimate, understandable effort to side-step the bureaucratic monolith. It is rightly perceived as the rumble of change. One of the most onerous features of the old order is that educational quality is determined by a family’s zip code. In the old order the constant cry is “Give us more money” even though every state commits at least half its budget to education.

But the reason the monolith needs more money is that it is so big and is constantly getting bigger. It harbors a brick and mortar mentality. Does it really take a massive bureaucracy, or the finest buildings, to teach a child to read? Must we have high schools so large that crowd control and discipline force academics to take a back seat? Charter school advocates answer both of these questions with a resounding “No!”

We often hear the words, “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we …” do thus and such? To me, the question is fair regarding our schools. Why can’t we have schools that focus on science and math, or the arts? Why can’t we have smaller high schools here and there for the growing number of students who feel swamped by their high school’s athletic agenda and emphasis? Why can’t we acknowledge that state government, which constitutionally created the counties and cities, should have a role other than just putting a check in the mail to local school systems?

Opponents of the charter school amendment have presented three major arguments. One is that the amendment would erode local control. I suggest it would do the opposite. Which is more local, a board of education making educational decisions for parents, or parents making those decisions for themselves? The amendment would not centralize educational decision-making; it would spread it. No parents will be forced to send their children to charter schools, but they will certainly have more options whenever and wherever charter schools are available.

Another opposing argument is that the seven members of the state charter school commission, which would have the power to overrule local boards of education, would be unaccountable since they would be appointed by the governor, the lieutenant-governor, and the Speaker of the House. This argument falls flat when we consider the fact that currently the thirteen state school board members who set the policy for all schools are also appointed, but by one person — the governor — not three. How accountable, or political, is that?

Still another opposing argument is that charter schools are divisive, that they inject class and race into an otherwise egalitarian system. State Sen. Emmanuel Jones of Decatur claims that charter schools would re-instate “segregation academies.” If this was true, I don’t think that Republican Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones of Fulton County and Democratic Representative Alisha Morgan of Austell would be working together to get the amendment passed. These two legislators are as far apart philosophically as they can be, except when it comes to improving education. Rep. Morgan has bravely broken ranks with her party and the legislative Black Caucus because of her genuine commitment to education reform.

I’m persuaded that many parents want educational options for reasons other than academic ones. For instance, the larger the school, the more likely are students to get sucked into behaviors and influences that parents don’t approve of.

Today, more than ever, children and teens are being shaped by other children and teens. Nothing is more values-laden than education, and because of this truth, parents are voting with their feet and their dollars. More and more young parents with whom I talk desire a more decentralized education style. The charter school amendment will move a long way toward granting that desire.



Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.

Comments
(7)
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no no TSPLOST
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October 23, 2012
Why would you support a Bill that is being funded by out of state companies, some who stand to profit. Why would Koch industries be interested in passing a bill in GA. VOTE NO, there is money floating about and folks looking to get hold of it.
Cherokee Mom
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October 21, 2012
Thank you for speaking out on this issue. A lot of educators I speak to, support the amendment, but are afraid to state so publicly because of the backlash from their school board.

I am all for creating new avenues of education. Children do not well in a cookie cutter approach.. Parents should figure out the best way their child learns, and be able to fit them with an educational solution that meets their needs.

Too many kids are getting lost in the shuffle these days.
vote no tsplost
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October 23, 2012
Then put them in a private school
AF Riend
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October 21, 2012
Well Roger Why does Georgia Charter Schools Inc DBA Kennesaw Charter School now have have $300,000 law suit. If I read it correctly their former landlord has sued them for breaking its lease and not making repairs to their former building. Look it up in Cobb County records. Many questions need to be asked about how these schools use our State of Georgia and Cobb County dollars.
Rjacks35
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October 21, 2012
Well said with some valid points, Mr. Hines. However, there is one important issue not mentioned here: Special Education. Charter school proponents have yet to map out how to deal with LRE and FAPE when budgets are as tight as ever. Could charter schools not be discriminatory toward a bright, hard-working, and talented student that happens to have an LD simply because they wish to attract students/parents, keep test scores high, or claim they cannot offer certain services?
Charter Mom
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October 22, 2012
Thank you so much Mr. Hines for speaking the truth!!!

For Rjacks35 charter schools do educate special needs children. I do not know where you are from but in our county the school board would not approve a charter school thereby allowing the county to keep all of the special needs funding and limiting the charter school on what types and severities of the special needs they can address. If the funding truly followed the child special needs would not be an issue in charter schools because they would receive the proper funding. That being said I know first hand and children in our charter school that have BOTH Dyslexia AND ADHD and are thriving in the charter school environment. Our charter school also offers much more diversity than the regular public school are are zip coded to attend. Our charter school has approximately 9% special needs which in looking into the public schools in our county that is right around the same amount. Our chater school also has approximate 9-11% gifted children which also falls to about the same percentages as our traditional public schools so I do not see where you argument is valid. Most of the children in our school or neither special needs nor are they gifted and from what I have learned no different than traditional public schools except the traditional public school receives additional funding for special needs to be able to offer more services and they have chosen to make sure they keep these funds for themselves. HUMM....and yet we are building high schools that look like colleges and a school board county administrative building that is so extravagent it is embarrassing to hear them rant and rave about funding. Yes Edsplost may build these elaborate buildings but ask yourself what funds pay for the maintenance, up keep and ongoing operating expenses of these buildings once built and Edsplost no longer funds? Maybe some of that money should be spent on the children, teachers and education? Wow what a thought!
Special Needs Mom
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October 24, 2012
I have Special Needs child, she has Autism and she attends a Charter School that was denied by its local school board. Map out, when budgets are tight? How would you expect the county school to respond? The same way, services are still offered, we are a public school, we don't have a choice on cherry picking our students, or picking what services are offered. We are not discriminating, parents are not educated on what services are available, the same as if you walked into your county/district school. I am sick and tired of hearing that our students are cherry picked and that charter schools are only geared towards gifted students.
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