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Lavada Walden & Dr. William Kritsonis


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Lavada Walden & Dr. William Kritsonis

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Lavada Walden & Dr. William Kritsonis

  1. 1. The Ascent of Charter Schools in America Lavada Moore Walden William Allan Kritsonis, PhD PhD Student in Educational Leadership Professor and Faculty Mentor The Whitlowe R. Green College of Education PhD Program in Educational Leadership Prairie View A&M University The Whitlowe R. Green College of Education Prairie View, Texas Prairie View A&M University English Teacher Member of the Texas A&M University System Fort Bend Independent School District Visiting Lecturer (2005) Sugar Land, Texas Oxford Round Table University of Oxford, Oxford, England Distinguished Alumnus (2004) College of Education and Professional Studies Central Washington University ABSTRACT Charter schools are rapidly growing in number across the nation in response to calls for school reform and choice. Advocates for the public school system decry charter schools as academically inferior, and stealing away students, whose numbers greatly impact funding. Charter schools are designed with specific programs and curricula to appeal to a target population who has been marginalized in mainstream public schools. Advocate for charters believe that publicly supported schools have long acted as a monopoly, and that charters will improve education outcomes by creating competition. Introduction “The essence of change, they say, revolves around three concepts: beliefs and values; knowledge and skills; and outcomes (Fullan, 2007, 28.)” Somewhere over the years the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, Topeka, Kansas became enshrouded in systemic disenfranchisement, and the ills of 1
  2. 2. deteriorating communities; many metropolitan schools regressed to separate and unequal. Billions of dollars have been purposed to reform public schools with mixed evidence of success in schools that disproportionately serve poor and majority-minority student populations. In the late 1990s, charter schools proliferated across the nation, as a response to perceived failing public schools, conservatism, and pluralism. Charter schools were marketed as the optimal free market choice in education to treat the needs of the whole student and equalize the educational playing field. Disparities in funding, and student achievement correspond to racial, socioeconomic, and linguistic backgrounds of students in the public school system. The Harlem Children’s Zone, KIPP Academy, and Drew Charter School, publicly supported-private partnerships, all have established exemplary programs which incorporate parent and community support to educate their children. Purpose of Article The purpose of this article is to explore the growth of the charter school industry and to examine its approach to student academic success by fostering individualized, nurturing relationships with its students, and the establishment of strong parent- community relationships by instituting a range of outreach services. Schooling in America Today’s schools go way beyond their original purposes of academic and religious training to a select homogeneous male population to whom the superiority of western literature, history, politics and economics were re-enforced. Public education has long surpassed the teaching of the Three Rs of Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic evolving into civic, vocational, artistic, and personal goal instruction and fulfillment (Kritsonis, 2002, 2
  3. 3. 8). The school aged population of the twenty-first century is heterogeneous and plural. Schools have incorporated social welfare components to attend to the needs of its students such as serving breakfast, having a health clinic on site, and offering a myriad of clubs and organizations that recognize the diversity and cultures of the student population. Charter schools are the new idea in educating the needs of the nation’s K-12 twenty-first century changing demographics. Charter schools are expanding across the 50 states in number and the range of programs offered, luring students away from traditional public schools as school choice policies are becoming more viable options for parents. Non-profit charter school operators and private companies who run charter schools are in stiff competition with traditional public schools for state education funding and the $4.35 billion federal education “Race to the Top” dollars, pledged by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to states which continue to work toward creating assessments linked to internationally benchmarked standards in English language arts and mathematics (Department of Education, 2009). Some form of open enrollment policy allows thousands of students to attend any public school with room to accept them in 46 out of the 50 states. Charter schools are a new option in open enrollment. They “are hailed simultaneously as saving the day and destroying the public education system (Fullan, 2009, 3).” It is estimated that approximately 150,000 students are enrolled in non-traditional public schools, either through public funded vouchers to attend private schools, through state-run charter schools or on-line charter schools. Not all of these students have moved to charter schools as a reaction to low-performing public schools, some have moved because of the 3
  4. 4. specific academic programs offered, small class sizes, and the convenience of location to parent’s work or home (Stover, 2009). K-12 education has become a competitive market niche. Make No Small Plans The two most notable transformative educational innovators in charter schools have been the KIPP Academy (Knowledge is Power Program) founded in Houston, Texas, led by Dave Levin and Michael Feinberg, two former teachers from Teach for America, and the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) in Harlem, New York under the leadership of Geoffrey Canada. President Obama familiarly tagged the innovative and transformative results of these two charter enterprises as “islands of excellence” and challenged other charters to see their success replicated as the norm, especially in impoverished inner-city neighborhoods. Since 1996, KIPP Academy Houston has been recognized as an exemplary school by the Texas Education Agency. KIPP Academy and Harlem Children’s Zone both have an unrelenting academic culture of high expectations and focus on educational strategies with proven results. Also notable, in 2000, the Drew Charter School in the East Lake area of Atlanta, Georgia was Atlanta’s first charter school and has attained a high success level against the odds. Like the KIPP Academy and the Harlem Children’s Zone, Drew Charter recognized that to educate a disadvantaged child, it must tend to the needs of the whole child. It has established rigid before and after school programs that work in concert with the needs of the families, and with the ultimate goal of making every child ready for high school and competitive in college. 4
  5. 5. The Price of Public Funding Without school choice, publicly funded charter schools would not be possible. Charter schools vary in design and purpose, and are subject to different laws and authorizations by each state. They are developed and managed by a group of private individuals who rely on a percentage of state and federal education funds to operate. Charter objectives are to replace rules-based governance with performance-based accountability. Charter schools operate with a good amount of autonomy and freedom to use innovative teaching practices to meet the needs and interests of its school population, thereby stimulating the creativity and commitment of teachers, parents and concerned citizens. Charter schools are now subject to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which puts them in a particular predicament. Its students must pass state mandated annual testing and the school must meet adequate yearly progress or be sanctioned for its shortcomings. This usurps some of their autonomy and innovativeness. The first charter school was established in Minnesota in 1991. The Minnesota legislature granted waivers from most state laws and local education rules. California, Arizona, Michigan and Massachusetts soon followed. Charter objectives have always been to operate with autonomy and flexibility in exchange for high accountability, giving fruition to effective schooling. Charters have always advocated: pressure created by market forces is an essential component to the creation of innovative and/or distinctive schools; innovative and/or distinctive schools are important because they provide true educational alternatives for students (especially those whom the traditional system does not serve); and, thereby exert a competitive force that can improve the overall system. 5
  6. 6. By virtue of the charter agreements, charters are inherently more accountable not only to government, but also to student, parents, and communities-at-large (Stillings, 2006). The premises that interplay of market forces and innovativeness would make charter schools more effective and of higher quality than district ran public schools in areas of curriculum and instruction, governance and teacher qualification has been a desirable consideration for parents dissatisfied with neighborhood schools. The No Child Left Behind Act (2001) enacted under President George Bush has had the greatest impact upon public education in the history of our nation. It has significantly expanded the role of federal government in public education through annual federal mandated testing (Noguera, 2009). Before NCLB, federal directives were largely concerned with civil rights enforcement and ensuring compliance with various federal policies, such as Title I. Varying by state, charter schools have always given some form of norm-referenced testing. Since 2001, NCLB has required all schools to give criterion referenced tests. Criterion referenced test come with a set of prescribed standards for teachers to teach to and students to meet. The law hinders new and old charter schools from designing curricula that set them apart from their public counterparts. In actuality, they have become semi-autonomous. Charters must adhere to state and federal standards, but also follow the values and pursuits of the founding group’s special interest. Charter schools seek greater social equity for themselves and the students they serve because traditional public schools have not catered to their needs, and have often further disadvantaged them. Charter schools offer equal respect for parents and students that is not given in mainstream schools. They serve a special target population of students in a highly structured and supportive environment, with curricula designed to 6
  7. 7. produce greater academic achievement with students who have not succeeded in existing mainstream schools and have been marginalized. Recent studies have affirmed high levels of student, parent, and teacher satisfaction in charters. Some of the success is attributed to the fact that many public schools are too large and too impersonal for adolescents who need or seek close and concerned adult involvement. Without autonomy from the public sector, charter schools cannot provide the unique educational options they purpose for students; thus, they cannot be “islands of excellence.” Without autonomy they cannot function as free-market competitors, competing with the public school monopoly and inducing it to change. Saving Them All The Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) is a public-private undertaking with a holistic approach to rebuilding a community through its children. The Harlem Children’s Zone covers roughly 100 blocks in Harlem, New York. HCZ has adopted the philosophy that for its children to do well, their parents must do well, and the community must do well. An objective of HCZ is to intervene as early as possible in a child’s life, and to surround that child with supportive adults in the community who understand that it takes more than books to help a child succeed. It offers a continuum of support, from cradle to career, that is taken for granted by middle-income students. HCZ comprises an early child development program, an elementary school, a middle school, a high school, and many after school and community outreach programs to help its students succeed. Geoffrey Canada, the founder and chief operating officer recognized a need to link an unbroken chain of support for a child from birth to college. He is a strong supporter of early 7
  8. 8. childhood development as a way to close the achievement gap in school age children. A passionate supporter of education reform, Canada founded HCZ in 1997. The HCZ serves impoverished students who live in the nearly 100 blocks which comprises HCZ through education, extensive after school programs, health, and social services. The area in Harlem was once characterized by un-employment, failing schools, broken homes, drug-infestation and crime. It is now a thriving community which supports its children’s educational growth; children who were once not successful in the public schools, but are now academically successful. The Obama administration was so impressed with the results of HCZ that it has pledged “$10 million to plan new Promise Neighborhoods modeled on the successful Harlem Children’s Zone (Department of Education, 2009.)” HCZ has thrived because of high expectations it has imposed upon its students, both in school and out. It has provided a unique education setting for children in Harlem commiserate with their particular social, health and academic needs. It has proved that education reform can work for the disadvantaged. KIPP Academy is a “free, national network of open enrollment, college preparatory with a track record of preparing students in (underserved) communities for success in college and life (KIPP Academy, 2009).” KIPP Academy boasts of building a partnership between parents, students and teachers. Highly effective schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods see parents and the community as a necessary part of the solution (Fullan, 2009, 194).” Collectively, KIPP academies across the nation have 80 per cent impoverished students, and 90 per cent of students are of African-American or Latino descent. KIPP believes demography is not destiny. KIPP has set an impressive 8
  9. 9. record with its middle school students’ acceptance into college preparatory schools and its former students being accepted into top tier colleges and universities. Charters such as the Harlem School Zone, KIPP Academy and Drew Charter in Atlanta are beacons of innovative excellence in their student relations, curricula and parent involvement. They mobilized the forces of successful change by strategically focusing on lessening the disparity in achievement between underprivileged minority children and others, displayed respect for community values and dignity of parents; and, most importantly realized that change is socially based: innovation must affect the heart and mind to sustain reform. Conclusion In conclusion, charter schools are broadening the choice in education by responding to the specific needs of students and parents. Charters are seen as a way in instituting equity in public education by providing new curricula to appeal to targeted populations. They recognize that a child is only in the classroom for a few hours a day, and that what happens around the student in the community and home affects the student’s educational and social outcome. They have used community and parent support to holistically educate the student. 9
  10. 10. References Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4th ed.). New York: Teachers College Press. Kritsonis, W.A. (2002). On schooling: Historical – philosophical – contemporary events and milestones. Ohio: Bookmaster’s, Inc. Noguera, P. A. (2009). The achievement gap: Public education in crisis. New Labor Forum, 18(2), 61-89. Stillings, C. (2006). Charter schools and no child left behind: Sacrificing autonomy for accountability. The journal of education, 186(2), 51-70. Stover, D. (2009). The choice evolution. American school board journal. November. KIPP Academy. (2009). KIPP. Retrieved 9 December 2009 from http// U.S. Department of Education. (2009). Duncan offers stimulus funds for states to develop rigorous assessments linked to common standards. Retrieved 26 November 2009 from 10