I’m simply not recognizing our own experiences in charter and alternative schools with what’s being portrayed in the latest educational documentary, The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman. Their definitions of what co-location and charter schools are, for instance, are not what I’ve seen.
My daughter’s first charter school was co-located, but shared a building with another charter school; one downstairs, one upstairs. Since then, that charter has moved to its own separate campus in a building that wasn’t previously a public school, but a warehouse. My younger daughter’s current charter school is currently sharing space with a Boys and Girls Club that has previously shared space with another charter school that has moved to the building that my daughter’s first charter school was previously located. In none of my charter school experience have any of them shared or, as the film portrays, “stolen” space from other public schools.
The charter schools are also not funded by corporations, as the film states, but do seek and obtain private funds and grants. The Boards of the charters are usually business executives, but for the most part, they’re simply people who have made money and want to give back to the community. I have had my share of problems with charter Boards, but to paint them so simply as corporate-run schools is not the problem I encountered. It’s a problem that I’ve seen in all non-profits; Boards are about raising money, not the day-to-day operations.
I have also had more say and open communication with the charter schools than the public schools my daughters have attended. My younger daughter’s current charter school has a Parent Coordinator. At the former charter school, I had the Principal’s cell phone number, and every email or phone call was returned on the same day.
My youngest daughter has an IEP. To say that there are no IEP students in charter schools is simply not true. Both of my daughters’ charter schools had over 90% students that participated in the federal lunch program, again contrary to what the film says. I don’t know the exact percentage of ELL students, but I do know that again over 90% of students were Hispanic.
I’m not denying what these educators are saying has been their experience, but to say that this is everyone’s experience with charter schools is an overstatement. And to call it the “truth” shows a lack of understanding on what the word means. Our “truth” has been that the schools that utilize the “real reforms” according to the film, have been in the charter and alternative schools we’ve attended far more than in the public schools.
Here’s what I know: I know that I can feel it when I walk into a school that is a good fit for my children. I have had this experience in 4 schools so far: one was our neighborhood elementary public school, two were charter schools, and one is the arts high school; a school that is free to me as a parent, but does have an audition and application process to get in. Not all charter schools are good, but they’re not all bad, either.
When we had our first charter experience, at first, I admit, I thought it was the ultimate answer. Now I know it’s not about the type of school, it is the personnel within the schools. You have to believe in the Principal and your child’s teachers. As a parent, you have to take steps to be involved, by attending parent meetings, by getting to know the teachers, but you also have to recognize when it’s not you, it’s them.
There are no easy answers. And I don’t think that one answer will work for everyone. Parents and students need choices to find the right school for their family. The best thing about this movie is the fact that it keeps the conversation going. I hope that the reform on all levels continues and improves education for every student.
April McCaffery is the single mom to two daughters, going into 6th & 9th grade.