Published Online: October 1, 2004
Published in Print: September 15, 2004, as Letters

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On Charters: Pluses, Plots, and Paradigm Shifts

To the Editor:

In light of the closure of a large California charter school organization amid allegations of financial impropriety ("Calif. Charter Failure Affects 10,000 Students," Sept. 1, 2004), I wonder how much time local school administrators and state accreditors will be expected to spend policing for- profit providers, while public schools go wanting? That time and money would be more efficiently spent just getting on with education in the public realm.

Politically, I find it telling that the present administration’s U.S. Department of Education promotes charter school developers’ Internet exchange of information, but does not advance the same kind of idea-exchange support for public school administrators, teachers, and parents. It’s as if the No Child Left Behind Act were a "take it or leave it, do it or else" proposition, while for charter schools, it’s "the sky’s the limit, try it and we’ll back you." Anyone browsing the department’s Web sites will pick up on this subtle differentiation.

These two opposing poles—the draconian No Child Left Behind law and the freestyle charter regime—authored and implemented by the same, single agency, will operate to disintegrate that Old Ironsides of democracy, the public school. Looks like a plot to me.

Robin S. Kuykendall
Knoxville, Tenn.


To the Editor:

The American Federation of Teachers’ study of charter schools ("AFT Charter School Study Sparks Heated National Debate," Sept. 1, 2004), is all about teacher unions’ anti-charter politics and not about children’s learning.

In California, studies indicate that, overall, charter schools are outperforming traditional public schools, but more importantly, are helping low-performing students raise their achievement levels faster. They are closing the achievement gap.

If a charter school fails, it is closed—as it should be. Failing noncharter public schools just continue to destroy students’ futures, year after year.

David Patterson
Rocklin Academy
Rocklin, Calif.


To the Editor:

At the beginning of the paradigm shift toward computers, it seemed easier just to write it by hand than to learn how to use the new technology. Charter schools are a paradigm shift in public education—a shift from standardized mass schooling to an individualized, personalized learning system.

It may take a while for the new system to do the easy stuff (the rote learning and memorization that’s the core of standardized testing). But, meanwhile, charters seem to be getting right the things that can’t be measured, yet make all the difference:

  • Their existence makes public education more public. With charters, the general public, including parents and teachers, can develop and operate a public school. The tent is bigger. The fact that the public now has a voice and a place in the further evolution of public education is a net plus for children, for public education, and for society as a whole.
  • They reflect our pluralistic society, which is our strength. The public is "involved" in public education when there are options to consider and choices to be made.
  • They promote a growing sense of pride and accomplishment in public education that only comes with having the primary responsibility for the growth and development of a venture.

The public charter school movement will speed things up for all schools to be more independent, more community-like, and better able to offer a more well-rounded education.

Joan Jaeckel
Studio City, Calif.


To the Editor:

Research out of Arizona shows that charters are doing well when compared with district schools. Comparing scores between these two groups does not show the whole picture, however.

The free marketplace and the No Child Left Behind legislation have stimulated exciting new developments throughout public education, including an emphasis on measurable results, a more informed group of customers, and an increased focus on customer service. The education industry as a whole has benefited from healthy competition.

Heidi Mitchell
Phoenix, Ariz.


Teacher Is ‘Appalled’ by Ed. Dept. Bonuses

To the Editor:

I just read your front-page story about the bonuses being paid to people employed by the U.S. Department of Education, and I am appalled ("Most in Ed. Dept. Are Paid Bonuses for Performance," Sept. 1, 2004). Teachers and administrators who deal directly with students could have used this money to better effect—to buy instructional materials that would have enabled them to raise student achievement.

As a teacher in Texas, I can assure you that bonuses are not possible here. And I would hazard a guess that this holds true in most of the states. What arrogance on the part of the federal education employees, and even more so the political appointees, to even consider taking this money.

I would be interested in knowing exactly what someone in the federal bureaucracy may have done to "earn" such a bonus—one that is considerably more than the annual salary of the majority of educators. Why is this being allowed to occur?

D.S. Allen
Houston, Texas

Vol. 24, Issue 3, Page 37

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