Why Good Charter Schools Can Coexist with Public Schools

One of the things I like about School Superintendent Vitti is his attitude about competition. Whether it’s on the basketball court or in the classroom – he wants to win andworks extremely hard to succeed.
He said publicly that he’s not afraid of competing against charter schools for students because his goal is for Duval’s public schools to “dominate.”

 Often times, us public school advocates are not charter school supporters. The assumption that good public schools and good charter schools can’t coexist is certainly false. I am a major supporter of public education, and have always been somewhat leery about charters until recently. 

The reality is simple – if we improve our public schools parents will send their children to the neighborhoodschools. So, hearing the superintendent say that our traditional public schools welcome the competition and will dominate is the right attitude to have.

And I am not saying support every charter application that comes in the door; because when it comes to charter schools in Jacksonville and around the state we have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Schools districts have to be very careful and have the right to be cautious; but schools and sponsors that have a great track record and innovative ideas should be supported.

Jacksonville’s Valor Academy is one of those new charter school concepts that will take a not so innovative approach to education, but utilize proven policies and strategies, and focus their efforts on addressing the black male dilemmathis city and country are facing.

This all-male school will be lead by folks with strong educational backgrounds and most importantly, a passion for education and community. I said that they are using not so innovative approaches because students will be required to wear uniforms that consist of blazers and ties. The curriculum will be heavily technology based, and the facility will be innovative as well.

I have often talked about the importance of fixing the public school system in Duval County and in Florida.When you truly analyze public education, most large cities are dealing with the same issues.
Most school systems both state and local have turned to a mixture of programs aimed at providing “choice” and specialized education options for students and parents. One of the main strategies being used around the country arecharter schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded institutions that must meet state and federal educational standards. However, the biggest difference is the flexibility that the schools have,versus traditional public schools.
Also, it is important to acknowledge that charters do have some administrative and operational advantages that traditional neighborhood schools don’t have.
Charters typically don’t allow their teachers to be in unions, and principals have the authority to hire and fire teachers.
These school hours tend to be longer, and their curriculumsmore regimented and focused. They also don’t have to deal with the bureaucracy and levels of accountability that traditional public schools have to deal with.
So in many ways the flexibility is both a blessing and curse. Because for every high performing charter, there are four or five very low performing charter schools. Even proven national charter brands like KIPP struggled out of the gates here in Jacksonville; but they are finally on track and doing well.

Some of the struggles are to be expected because many charter schools focus on students who are behind or failing at their local school. And that’s the most attractive aspect of many charter schools – their smaller size andability to focus resources and specialize curriculums on struggling students; this is why they are so popular.
Charter schools continue to grow in popularity. Last year in the U.S., there were almost 5,500 charter schools in the country, representing more than five percent of all public schools.

Take Washington, D.C. for example; nearly 40 percent of all public school students there attend charters.
But much like Frankenstein’s monster, many things created for good can be misused or overused.
Many of these charters are run by for-profit organizations that look at these schools as profitable business lines. In fact, many of them do not have local boards, and very little accountability.

While some see charters as saviors, many others see them as the tools being used to dismantle public education. In fact, the charter school dilemma is not unique to Florida – the National NAACP recently decided to sue the state of New York to prevent them from closing some 22 underperforming public schools and turning them over to charter organizations.

The NAACP suit basically questions if charter schools are the best solution for struggling public schools.
I believe that good charters have a place, but we should notbe willing to trade off neighborhood public schools for charters schools. Strong quality neighborhood schools and charters can coexist. In fact, I think that we need to start using the best practices of good charter and private schools to help make our public schools better.
Signing off from Valor Academy,
          Reggie Fullwood


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