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Charter schools are…

August 7, 2007 pm31 2:36 pm

Look, this is not going to be a long diatribe. Just, when someone says “public school” we mean schools that the town or city or district runs. That’s not charter schools.

Charters allow anyone in (lot’s of exceptions, eh?), and don’t charge tuition. But stretching that into calling them “public” abuses the language and is deliberately misleading.

Try it this way: If charter schools are public schools, then what are public schools? See?

So let’s be a little more forthright with our language. Charters are charters, public schools are public schools… And if we have to specify the governance and admissions, we can describe charters, per Fred Klonsky, as ‘hybrid forms.’

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Crazy Dave permalink
    August 7, 2007 pm31 5:19 pm 5:19 pm


    I feel you on charters man, but here’s a question. If charters aren’t public schools, then how can we, the public, hold them accountable, ie. when they violate civil rights laws or deny collective bargaining rights to teachers? Fred Klonsky is right about them being a “hybrid form” but form doesn’t take away from the fact that they are public schools and not the private domain of their current operators. The public giveth, the public can taketh away.

  2. August 7, 2007 pm31 9:34 pm 9:34 pm

    I’m no expert on charter schools, but as they are run on public funding, that seems to make them “public” to me. It seems to me that it is a different model of public education, one that is working well for many families and communities. (We don’t have any around here, so it’s all second-hand knowledge for me.)

    I’m not sure what your issue is — I seem to be missing context.

    Charter schools that don’t have open admissions should not be compared against traditional public schools, since they’re apples and oranges. And many charter schools do seem to have specific admissions criteria. I’d argue that such schools are good for the children they serve in many cases, and offer parents who can’t afford private schools alternatives to traditional education. (My own kids are in an alternative private school because traditional, and even not so traditional public school education just wasn’t working for them. I’d be surprised if you were trying to argue that traditional public schools could meet the needs of every student in general, let alone that any particular public school could meet the needs of any given student….) So, in general, I think charter schools and choices for families are a good thing…

  3. August 7, 2007 pm31 9:38 pm 9:38 pm

    From what I have read, charter schools are syphoning money and space from public schools. They select the students they want and have the power to remove the ones that don’t live up to potential. Teachers can be fired at the whim of an administrator without just cause. While the one size fits all plan does not work in education, Charter Schools are not the way to go either. Maybe the BOE needs to look into running its own schools that are not so traditional.

  4. preaprez permalink
    August 7, 2007 pm31 10:32 pm 10:32 pm

    Some of what you describe about charter schools is true about some charters, and not true about others. Some are selective admission, some take students from the surrounding community. Some are rabidly anti-union. Some have union contracts. The idea of teachers running their own schools is a great one.

    The issue of what is public and what is not is interesting. We know what are clearly private schools. But public seems to exist on a continuum.

    For example. Here in the Chicago area, wealthy kids on the North Shore go to New Trier High School, a public school that spends over $25,000 a year per student. Few people send their kids to private schools. Why would they? The school represents the desires and outlook of the community it serves. It meets the communities needs.

    A dozen miles south in Chicago, things look much different. Not only is their not equity in funding, there is not community ownership of educational goals or governance.

    Both are public systems.

  5. JBL permalink
    August 8, 2007 am31 12:02 am 12:02 am

    An off-topic nit-pick:

    “We know what are clearly private schools.”

    Well, really, I think private schools exist on that same continuum, just further along. They receive government funding (for lunches and other things), must meet certain guidelines in order to be accredited, etc. Also, many private schools are non-profit, while plenty of charter schools have been opened by for-profit corporations.

    mathmom: it’s not clear why public school systems in a place like New York *shouldn’t* be able to meet the needs of every student. (I wouldn’t have the geographic qualifier except that I think extremely rural areas are probably an exception to the more general claim.)

  6. August 8, 2007 am31 1:09 am 1:09 am

    I think you can say “public charter school” and “public district school” to be clear.

    I have one experience with why this matters: I did some work in the past couple years organizing a union in a charter school I was working for. The labor board ruling about the jurisdiction turned on the fact that the charter school was part of the public school system. This allowed us to organize under PERB (Public Employment Relations Board) instead of the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), which the charter management organization was trying to push for some reason — probably just as a tactic to make things take longer and thus have the conditions be less favorable for organizing. But the ruling held that since the district authorizes, funds, and is ultimately responsible for the charter, that the employees are actually state employees, and that the charter school is not independent from the state school system. (As Crazy Dave points out in the first comment.)

    This is just one data point in the whole story, but I think that “public” does have a clear meaning and while the modifiers “charter” or “district” tell you a more important thing about the school, “public” applies to both. More useful information would be some descriptors about the size and educational philosophy of the school. But I do agree with part of your original point, which is that to simply say, “this is a public school” or “I work at a public school” without specifying that it’s a charter can definitely be misleading because of what people will assume.

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