Educational Choice? Independent Charter Schools Provide It!
Updated: May 16, 2019
Just as no two children are alike, no one school can meet the needs for all children in our communities. Though educational trends come and go in popularity, the general form of delivery of curriculum has remained relatively unchanged. For decades, we have not moved far from the basic “3 R’s” as educational priorities for K-12 students. Though sciences of child development have expanded, our national educational pedagogy has remained generally “one size fits all”, often neglecting large portions of the population a teacher experiences in her classroom.
This lack of innovation was the incentive from which the charter school movement was born more than three decades ago. A revolution-like impulse from teachers, parents, administrators, and education academics opened up research, theory, and progressive ideas regarding educational choice. Importantly, this was not about creating competition for our public schools, but rather, improving upon and thereby supporting public education through innovation and choice.
Today, the dramatic academic gains that children make at many charter schools routinely astonish educators and policymakers. Yet critics continue to find reasons to invalidate their accomplishments, alleging that charters—which are essentially public schools granted more freedom to shape the education they offer—“steal” students and thus funding from local district schools. Others allege that charters are a scheme by private, corporate-minded individuals to profit personally with public dollars. These are gross distortions of the reality of charters, which came about from the need to challenge the district-mandated conformity that was stifling our schools. Yet the public image of these critically-important schools is eroding. A recent article in Chalkbeat puts it succinctly: “Charter leaders from across the country are coming to grips with new limits on their growth and political clout. And there are signs that their anxiety is warranted, with charters losing support particularly in blue states and cities and among Democrats.”
Additionally, when charter schools are referenced in the local, state, or national dialogue, the public hears almost exclusively about large, national charter organizations, as if the two-thirds of all charters run by independent organizations do not exist. It is important that this distinction is made. Unlike the larger, multi-school charter management organizations (CMO’s), independent charter schools are local, community-centered institutions that often provide the kind of student-centered education for which parents traditionally pay great sums of money in the private sector. Teachers and administrators at these independents work tirelessly to create innovative ways to make their teaching more effective. Their business practices are transparent and follow the strict state and federal laws regarding financial and governing board accountability.
Those who do not have access or pay attention to good reporting of education news may hold an impression based on a limited, “they’re all alike” understanding of charters. In fact, each charter awarded by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, for instance, is a unique contract between the State of Arizona and the charter representative. How a charter’s management structure is designed, how their public funding is spent, how their boards are run, how they teach Arizona education standards to their students—all of these are unique to each charter school.
An independent, self-managed charter school will be run much differently than one which is part of a CMO. This difference is important to understand, especially when the statewide and national dialogue is dominated by large, national chains. What these CMO’s advocate for, and the impressions they leave with the general public, may not necessarily represent the almost 70 percent of independent charters in our country.
CPICS was formed by independent charter schools across the country to inform the national dialogue regarding charter schools, and bring light to the innovation and commitment our schools bring to quality public education choice for our nation’s students. CPICS member schools conform to a strict Statement of Principles that include transparency, accountability, respect for teachers, collaboration with other schools (both charter and district), community engagement (including decision making), and diversity. The leaders of independent charters believe that their independence is an extraordinary public trust, and an opportunity to leverage the transformative power of our schools to change the lives of young people. We believe that is an ideal to which all school leaders should hold themselves.
Dianne Jacobson, is the Operations Manager at Skyview School in Prescott, Arizona and a CPICS Board Member