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Do Charter Schools Work Better?

February 27, 2009

I have been reading  the most recent debate concerning charter schools versus traditional public schools, and it seems that not many people have come to any strong conclusions.  One article from Edweek states:

But the charter school teachers were more likely than those in regular public schools to have undergraduate degrees from high-ranking colleges and to have majored in the arts and sciences.  (Edweek, Debra Viadero)

Does this mean they are better than the tradtitional public schools?  Well, considering the sources of information routinely work for the public school systems, or were educated by them, I don’t think we can draw any major conclusions.  But, I am rather puzzled by the idea that traditional public schools feel so threatened.  If the public schools were so good to begin with, why worry to begin with?  The problem is, the unstated problem, is that most public schools are not up to par in lots of areas:  teacher working conditions, student achievement, exploration of the arts, etc.

This seems to be supported by the evidence that charter schools, in states OTHER THAN MI, employ some teachers who are not state certified (Blaspheme, I know!) but seem to have graduated from other prestigious universities.  And, not surpsingly, these students-turned teachers at charter schools also studied in the arts and sciences.

Several of those studies have shown that charter schools tend to employ fewer certified teachers than their district-run counterparts. But researchers have also found that charter school educators are more likely to be graduates of selective colleges and universities than are teachers in traditional public schools.

“The question is: What does better quality mean?” said Caroline M. Hoxby, a Stanford University economist who studies charter schools. “If it means having better teaching credentials, that’s not what charter schools are doing. But if you asked charters, they would say, ‘Yes, we want to hire that undergraduate from Princeton University.’”(Edweek, again)

But, in comparison with public schools, the test scores may not be higher overall at public schools.  For everyone seeking a quick and easy answer, this may be the end of the road.  For someone, like me, who is an Ivy League graduate and has worked in the field of education, I can definitely say that just having a teaching degree does not make someone more or less qualified to teach.

The standards for teachers in the education program at the undergraduate level (Western Michigan University) that I looked at stated that in order to enter their program students must have at least a 3.0 grade point average.  Even the business school required a 3.5 grade point average, and more competitive programs required a 3.75 grade point average.  In short, the education programs were the least competitive in program acceptance.  Starting out, there were no scholars in the undergrad program.

I was derailed in my quest for a teaching certificate when I was told that the course I needed to graduate on ticatme, and I would be in school an extra year and a half just to student teach, even though I had finished all of my coursework in my dual language majors.  But, the education program would not let me take classes anywhere else, transfer credits or work with another program in order to graduate on time.  In essence, I would have worked at schooling for another year and a half taking the few ed courses I needed to be in undergrad for 6 years and make $25K/year.  The economics didn’t look good.  Besides, I was paying for all this myself, and with a merit scholarship that only lasted one more semester.  Scholarship would end when I was supposed to graduate but would not be continued for the Ed Dept.  I didn’t graduate with a teaching certification.

Does that make me a poor teacher?  no.  Did it stop me from going to Harvard?  No.  What value would it have added?  None that I can see, but I would have been christened as teacher in MI.  Massachusetts didn’t seem to care, but then they had a whole different system for charter schools.  Here in Michigan, charter schools are for the poor kids who want a semblance of a private education.  The charter schools in Michigan tend to be started by those with strong religious affiliations and a low income bracket.  They only hire certified teachers and test scores aren’t that different.  For Michigan, charter schools are just a grant application done well, not much different in teachers, buildings, or the extras (arts, technology, etc.).

It’s a dicey field to determine the whole lives of the next generation, and I am not sure I trest policymakers to get it right for my kid.  What about yours?

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