When Words Lose Their Meaning
Good, because they're not.
We can play intellectually dishonest games to twist and bend the English language until the results fit the needs of an agenda, but all that crazy-yoga-semantic-altering does not effect the reality. These schools aren't public. Not in the way that speaks of open to all, regardless of attitude or ability, address or aptitude. Not in the way that speaks of egalitarian social change, the closing of gaps, and the empowering of those in the most need.
Funding. Yes, most charter schools utilize public funds on a per pupil basis (And in this zero-sum game, doesn't that just make the work that much harder for those of us committed to teaching everyone?), but in order to fully realize the entire extent of their educational models, charter schools turn to corporate subsidies. Bank of America, The Gap, Netflix, policy institutes, private donors, not to mention religious institutions and political action groups -- these are the sources of funding that form the backbone of most charter schools: their field trips, increased salary and benefits, Saturday programs. When I speak of public schooling, my mind does not turn to -- "sponsored by Old Navy."
Availability. By the very design of their educational model, charter schools are selective and secluded. Most cannot exist serving entire communities. To call yourself a "public school" you should be open to the public -- all of it. Not 73, not 12, not 102. If you want to call yourself "public," you ought to be available to every single person who wishes to attend your school.
Selectivity. "We don't skim," claims a high-ranking state charter school official at a panel discussion I attended, attempting to refute the claim that charter school's successes are predicated on recruiting the best and the brightest, and only the best and brightest. My response:
1) Yes you do. Seriously. Yes you do. The KIPP school attached to our campus like some boil needing to be lanced went door to door recruiting kids. Are we to believe they did so randomly, with no research or agenda? Please. A small school on another middle school campus opened a 6th grade last year, and suddenly there were two fewer on-grade-level-and-above classes in the middle school. Coincidence?
2) Even if you don't, you still do. Given a situation where a child is not already perched atop the intellectual haystack, said child already has more going than most. To whit, parents who are involved enough to get their child into a charter school. How many children have rabidly involved parents and still fail? "But, we aren't selective, we have a lottery!" Please, let's speak like adults. Think of the selection criteria a family goes through before even entering such a lottery.
A. Parents are involved and somewhat knowledge about school/district/system.
B. Parents form an opinion of the prevailing school/district/system.
C. Parents feel empowered enough to seek solutions/ redress.
D. Parents possess the capital necessary to successfully find alternatives. Such capital could include: language, time, money, ability to process information, transportation to attend meetings, etc.
In under-resourced communities, such capital often comes at a premium, and is a special type of kid, and a special type of family, that possesses such.
3) Most charter schools, especially in their first few years of functioning, do not offer services for children with special needs.
More could be written of course. The point here is not that charter schools are necessarily bad (although the extent to which they damage preexisting school communities has never been formally studied, and man, I think it's huge), but simply this: You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If you want to be separate, fine, be separate, but you cannot maintain the same title for your institution and the same claim to public access. Your institutions are free private schools that utilize public money in the same way that many private colleges and universities are also publicly funded.
The previously quoted charter school official, at the same panel discussion, told me: "You need to change your perception of what is public. It's not handed down by the government." I agree. But neither is it funded by corporations, and inherently limited to a select few.