Education left worse by charter schools

editorialWhen speaking of charter schools, Oklahoma lawmakers have been quick to argue their importance and benefits for children in poverty.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten until fifth grade, and attended private school during junior high.

After that, I went on to my district’s public high school for a year, then proceeded to enroll in a charter school for my remaining years of high school education.

Essentially, I have experienced every kind of school setting, and learned to enjoy each one of them.

Sophia Babb
Sophia Babb

Although I personally benefited from my alma-mater charter school, I have come to the conviction that charter schools are not beneficial to the wellbeing of students statewide.

Backed mostly by Republican state officials, charter schools are free alternatives to the traditional public education system.

They are defined by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools as “unique public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement.”

Oklahoma Sen. Kyle Loveless (R) described charter schools as having the ability to take funding from nonprofits and corporate entities, as well as through the traditional process of public education funding.

“Charter schools have the flexibility to get more funding than public schools with less restrictions,” he said.

After Loveless spoke to my OCCC News Writing class about charter schools in March  2016, something didn’t sit right with me.

Funding for charter schools has been allotted through arguments that they are the best alternative to failing public schools.

However, this “good alternative” does not solve the remaining problem: underfunded and understaffed public schools full of children struggling to succeed.

Loveless said during his visit, “40 percent of Oklahoma high school students going onto college have to take remedial math, English, or science. As a taxpayer, we’re paying for students to be educated, yet the person is not educated when they reach college. There is something wrong with our system that has produced that outcome.”

“Charter schools are a way to jump-start our system,” he said.

Though I agree with Loveless when he says that our current education system is faulty and is failing Oklahoma students, I do not agree that presenting a well-funded shiny charter school will jump-start any reform to the existing public schools that are falling far behind.

A recent study of Michigan charter schools by the Center for Research and Education Outcomes concluded there were no differences found between the effectiveness of charter schools versus public schools.

Loveless spoke at length to my class about charter school’s benefits to Oklahoma students.

He mentioned that they are funded by taxpayers, therefore, open to everyone. But I felt what he shared could not possibly add up, so I did more research.

In the research process, I often wondered, “Who are charter schools actually helping?”

In a special report on charter schools by news agency Reuters, it was found that “charter schools aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law.”

Some applications include assessment exams, academic prerequisites, or a required essay prompt telling why the child would be a good fit for the school.

These daunting hurdles to climb over for admission into charter schools have proven to not be as equally simple, or “open” to every student who applies.

To the impoverished mother working two part time jobs, having time to help a child complete the long application can be much harder than it is for the fortunate mother who has the time and financial ease to do so.

To the unguided child who lags behind in the classroom, writing an acceptable story or essay for an application can be incredibly difficult.

To the immigrant family, applications printed exclusively in English and asking for Social Security cards or birth certificates can make admittance to a charter school impossible.

In an Education Week article by education historian Diane Ravitch, she comments, “What concerns me most is the possibility that policy makers are promoting dual school systems: a privileged group of schools called charters that can select their students and exclude the ones that are hardest to educate; and the remaining schools composed of students who couldn’t get into the charters or got kicked out.”

There are currently 32 charter schools in Oklahoma, making up only 2.5 percent of the student population.

Instead of shifting the attention to new charter schools that may not be any more effective than public schools, we should be focusing on reforming current public school curriculums to ensure the same potential success for education statewide.

We need to campaign for the better education of all Oklahoma’s students, not just the students who can jump the hurdles.

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