I have gotten into an imbroglio with a person with a title at a university. It is one of the few times over the last few years that I have run into, whose background is in public education and who is now on the opposite side of the fence on the issue of charter schools.

According to this person, charter schools are funded by both public and private funds. He is also under the impression that charter schools are not public schools. His views are at such variance with mine, that I am beginning to think that maybe I should review my feelings about charter schools here in Pennsylvania.

When the charter school law was passed here in 1996, I had a feeling that it would lead to skullduggery and a waste of public funds. The intention of the legislature was to create schools that could be innovative, models for public schools, and would be freed of some of the more onerous mandates on the heads of public schools.

It is now almost 19 years later and the results of the legislation are plain for all to see. After over 40 investigations by both state and federal authorities, it appears that there is, in fact, massive skullduggery. Private management groups have hoisted the flag of for profit entities and are going wild with the money they receive from public schools. They are now taking over 1.6 billion dollars from the coffers of local school districts.

Yes, they are freed from many of the regulations that hamper local school districts. The cyber charter schools, using distance education technology, are probably the worst of all. There are ongoing investigations going on about the largest one, and all of the rest have not made passing grades on any of the state tests or standards. In fact, in a Stanford study done in 2010, national numbers show that charter schools do not match up positively with local school districts.

Most of the charter schools are in the city of Philadelphia. Parents see them as ways of keeping their children out of local schools. They see those schools as moribund and in some cases dangerous for the students to be there. I can see their point. I cannot see that the state has fulfilled its role in making funds available to improve those public schools. We then have the state pushing children into charter schools that are absolute failures, in academic terms.

I have done some eyeball stats on SAT scores and have found all charters averaging lower (by far), using weighted averages, to the state average SAT scores. In some cases the physical charter schools are doing well. I am happy about that. Are they models for public schools? How can they be, since they do not follow the same rules and regulations? Further, some of these schools use a very large application and meetings with parents to screen out those who might not do well in their schools. That is called cherry picking.

In my diatribe I am forgetting that charter schools, at the outset, might have benefitted from some input by those who really had concerns about public education, not those who saw it as a cash cow, every year more students and more money and more profit. Has anyone looked at the salaries and profits made by these “institutions of learning?”

If we are to support an innovative view of education, why not allow public schools the opportunity to escape from crushing mandates and act as their own models of education. There have been a myriad of suggestions about how we might accomplish that. Could we actually help kids who are in the lowest socio-economic group raise themselves by their own bootstraps if we give them a chance. Let’s unbridle the public schools, get the sharks out of the educational waters and let our imaginations fly.

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