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The Glorious Failure of Charter Schools… by indianamcfly
July 21, 2008, 11:58 pm
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this is a short paper that I wrote for an argument assignment in my AP Language course back in November(I chose to do mine on charter schools). Just putting it out there:

“They are so common that students have given them names… drawn pictures of them”. These are the words of Ariel Smith, a college student who worked at an after-school program at in a Washington, D.C. public elementary school. The “they” she made reference to was not a local running group, a nest of birds in the school yard, or interesting cars. “They” is a reference to the rats seen running through the cafeteria and kindergarten room. Why, you may ask, has this D.C. public school (and so many like it) been neglected, been allowed to fall through the cracks? While some may say that it is the school principal’s fault, it is actually caused by a relocation of educational funds. Where is the money that could be saving the community’s schools? The answer is obvious: charter schools. Charter schools are public education facilities which have been created for any student who wishes to “escape” the disintegrating public schools. While many may say that this is an excellent idea because it allows students to get away from unproductive learning environments, it is, in reality, causing the existing schools to be further neglected, and in the end, allowing students to become “left behind”.

The District of Columbia has put great faith in charter schools to be the savior of the public school system. The charter schools, once seen as the magic remedy of the ever failing facilities and staff, have themselves failed. This year, a review of all public schools in the District was conducted to determine if they met health and test standards. 30 of the schools failed. Included in the list are charter schools. Although some of the charter schools have seen moderate success, a great number of them have failed to meet educational standards. 26 out of the 30 failing schools are regular public schools; the other 4 are charter schools. Washington charter schools are evaluated every 5 years by a charter committee, as well as an annual review (which the regular schools are subjected to as well) dictated by the No Child Left Behind Act. If it is determined that test scores are too low, they have a two year probationary period to improve them before they are added to an “In Need of Improvement” list. If after those two years the school still fails to raise its scores, the school is eligible for additional monitoring, or to be shut down. It is evident that charter schools are not only failing to be the champion of public school system, but rather they are becoming the nemesis of success, as is obvious in the growing number of schools who after more than two years still cannot raise scores.

Some say that charter schools are a great success because test scores are rising. However, this rise in test scores is found only in the charter schools, which draw the more academically advanced students from the regular public schools, and not throughout the entire District school system. Besides failing to ameliorate the entire District’s failing test scores (three out of four D.C. students fail to meet math standards), charter schools also use vital funds which should be used to rehabilitate the struggling regular public schools. Although in theory charter schools should be met with great success, they are actually money pits which consume large amounts of government funding. The school system fails to be productive with the money granted not because of a fundamental flaw with charter schools, but because of the District’s crumbling infrastructure. Blatant statistics show misuse of funding (and of deep internal issues) in Washington’s school system. The school system ranks third in the nation’s 100 largest school districts in spending, while it ranks last in the classroom and instruction spending category. Charter schools are merely the latest step in a colossal fumbling of grant location; they are the biggest layer that needs to be peeled away, and one that when removed will make the underlying infrastructure problems visible and ready for reform.

The first step in fixing the mounting problems in Washington, D.C. schools is to phase out charter schools and focus on rehabilitating the decrepit facilities which already exist. Once this happens, more qualified teachers will come to teach in the District, and eventually, test scores will rise. But I stress once again, to give incentive to these teachers, it is paramount that we refocus our funds away from money pit projects (such as the $125,000 “production room” at a Washington middle school intended for announcements and television broadcasts, which, after three years still has not been used due to miscommunication between the school board and the principal) and towards the rehabilitation and expansion of regular public schools.

Teachers do not want to work where rats scurry through classrooms, adorned with rusted through lockers, and where they will lack proper funding for classroom instruction. Until these issues are met head on, Washington test scores will fail to improve across the board. While system-wide reconstruction will not be easy, the first (and always hardest) steps are to phase out charter schools and refocus funds.

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