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Charter schools are not necessarily the answer


Mississippi consistently ranks at the bottom of education lists and statistic reports. Are charter schools the answer? Not necessarily. 

Charter schools take students out from under the state’s eye. These “private-public” schools receive public funding but have flexibility in curriculum and hiring, and in some states they are free from standardized testing (which makes it difficult to determine the success of these ventures).

Providing an outlet for dissatisfied parents of all socioeconomic levels is desirable, but where does that leave students whose families choose to keep them in public school or who are not accepted to these charter schools and fail to win the “charter school lottery” in order to get off the waiting list?

Arizona, where I taught 5th grade for two years as a corps member with Teach For America, boasts some 600-plus charter schools, and yet it maintains a spot right alongside Mississippi on the bottom of education lists every year. In the suburb where I taught, a charter school opened up, and some of my best and brightest students fled the public school for a brand-new facility that advertised a flexible and state-of-the-art curriculum.

What message does this send to the public school district where this charter school is situated? It says, “You’re not good enough, and we no longer support you.” Yet, if the families remain residents of the district, their tax dollars still go to those unsatisfactory schools, and such community hostility often leaves teachers feeling disheartened and frustrated.

From personal experience, this does not always have the desired outcome of motivating the public school districts to improve. The desire may be there, but where are the resources? Opening up charter schools does not magically increase the training for and ability of existing educators, nor does it fix dilapidated school facilities or update textbooks and classroom technology.

Charter schools often entice public schools’ best teachers and administrators to come work for them, hindering a public system’s ability to improve even further.

And, even as the economy shows signs of improvement, charter schools often lose their funding and have trouble obtaining private donors. When these schools close and students are sent back to the public schools they once fled, there is no guarantee that they will be at grade level — they may be above or below — and public school teachers are then left to catch them up or re-familiarize the students with the more traditional environment. 

The Mississippi Legislature is grasping at straws. The legislators have recognized a dire situation and are struggling to determine how this educational fad may or may not help and apply to our state. High-performing districts have pooled their resources to squash the Mississippi Charter School bill once, but it is now up for reconsideration. Yet again, it appears that the politicians of Mississippi have placed their attention on misguided efforts. 

The answer is not opening up more schools with an equal opportunity for failure or success depending on where they are located and the teachers they are able to hire. The answer is creating resources and training for current schools and educators, which will foster an environment that will make a solid education accessible and important to all children and their families.

Emily Stedman is a second-year law student from Marietta, Ga.