In the early 2000s Arkansas was introduced to charter schools.
Since then, the question of what charter schools are and how will they affect our public schools. It even more so in this time of educational discourse in LRSD. Schools like Lisa Academy and eStem received money from the state to expand at a time when LRSD’s enrollment is shrinking.
What exactly are charter schools?
“A charter School is a school that offers choice to families who feel as if the school for which they are zoned may not be the best environment for their child,” Jarrod DuPriest director of the eStem downtown junior high.
Ms. Jasmine Geter, student achievement and intervention specialist of Parkview, said a charter is, “An institution of learning that is founded by a group of people who are granted a charter. Charter schools have the freedom to set the school up however they want and it doesn’t have to go by state and federal regulations.”
“Charter schools don’t have to have certified teachers, library, they don’t have to offer visual arts, music or physical education,” said Ms. Michelle Edwards math intervention specialist.
There is also a difference in the curriculum that charter schools teach, Geter explains, “Charters do not use traditional textbook or curriculum, because teachers develop their own curriculum. Often times, the teachers are not licensed, and have to follow a scripted curriculum. Problems occur when students ask questions that are not included in the script and the teacher does not know how to respond.”
In addition to having a less than qualified staff, charters have the ability to “hand pick” the students that they want. They also do not have to bear many of the expenses borne by traditional public schools.
“Charter schools are a trade off. Public schools are obligated to serve all kids, feed them, transport them, and all the basics. In charter schools, they don’t have to provide all of that which requires more parental involvement,” Geter said.
A common belief is that charter schools outperform public schools, which isn’t quite accurate.
“Charter schools can have more of a choice of the students that come in whereas public school districts have to accept anyone. They can also have grading systems different from traditional schools,” Ms. Stacy O’Brien, math teacher and the gifted and talented coordinator, said.
Even the administration at eStem cedes this point.
DuPriest clarifies, “Well, we perform better than some schools in some areas but definitely not all of them and definitely not all subject areas.”
Geter reiterates this statement, “When I moved to Little Rock, I sent my child to a Charter school, because I had positive experiences with it in Texas. I was disappointed to learn how weak the curriculum’s rigor was and concerned that the school was not preparing my child.”
One of the issues that come with charter schools is the curriculum dilemma; and also that people begin to wonder who it is the school board is giving most of their attention to and who actually deserves further investigation.
According to O’Brien, “The State Board pays less attention to charter schools, and closely regulates public school. They instead throw money to the charters for their problems. They should be held to the same standards, laws, and ethics as public schools and shouldn’t have waivers.”
But DuPriest disagrees
“I think the school board’s attention is stretched too thin, period. The State Board of Education dissolved the Little Rock School Board and is now attempting to handle their state business as well as LRSD business. It’s too much for any board to effectively handle.”
On this point Geter and DuPriest were in agreement.
“The school board should continue to pay close attention to public schools. Charter schools [fly under the radar] because of the nature of charter schools. Charter schools each have different specialties they focus on so it is difficult to monitor charters.”
Education as a whole in the state has major issues going on with teacher and student retention rate and a consistent curriculum. “Teacher retention rate should be the number one way to improve education in all schools. Different programs and ideas for classrooms are important, but in my opinion, keeping good teachers is the most important thing to improve education for all of us,” Ian Scoggin, eStem K-3 Media Specialist said.