Charter schools are often touted as the great hope for public education. President Obama has called for the expansion of charter schools, and a bill under consideration that would rewrite No Child Left Behind possibly could increase the number of charter schools, which are funded by taxpayer money but run independently.
For many low-income and minority families, charter schools are seen as the best opportunity for a better education. (Just think of the countless stories of parents camping out at charter school lotteries just for a chance at admission.) According to the Annual Survey of America’s Charter Schools, about 49 percent of charter schools serve a free/reduced lunch population of more than 60 percent and about 43 percent serve a minority population of more than 60 percent.
But are charter schools living up to their potential?
A Miami Herald investigation found that the operators of one Dade County charter school, the Academy of Arts and Minds, may have used several questionable — possibly illegal — practices, including charging students for basic classes such as English, social studies and math. The classes are supposed to be provided free of charge.
Parents have also raised questions about the school founder’s financial ties with the school. According to the Herald story, Manuel Alonso-Poch is “the school’s landlord, its spokesman, its food-service provider, its most generous donor and — thanks to a recent $90,000-a-year no-bid contract — its financial manager.”
The Miami New Times also looked at the troubles plaguing the Academy of Arts and Minds in this June 9, 2011 piece.
Both pieces are good reminders that stories about charter schools, which draw significant numbers of Latino students, should not be limited to profiles of successes. There are also stories to be told about how the schools are financed, where the funding goes, how the schools are run, and what the curriculum includes.
In addition, many charter schools do not require that teachers be certified, only that they can be considered “highly qualified.” What does that mean in terms of who is teaching and what is being taught?
Is there a parent board for the charter schools in your area? It would pay off to cultivate sources among the parents, who might be the first people to spot possible problems.