Recently, Charter schools have been a hot topic across the nation; as well as, here in Maryland. As Bill Gates appeared at the National Charter Schools Conference in Chicago to speak on the strengths and innovative spirit of charters, a new federal study had findings that charters have little edge over public schools.
In complete contradiction, a report found that students of the KIPP school consistently outscored public school peers, Bill Turque of the Washington Post reports; but, without a real answer as to what the mojo is to make that magic happen. None the less, charters are being seen as a parent’s choice and continue to gain support from communities in need of more options.
In Baltimore, the state Board of Education approved a new policy focused on making Md. charter regulations stronger. 11 News education reporter, Tim Tooten’s interview with officials shed a bit of light on the school board’s motivations, stating that, “…there remains a growing concern by some state board members about the lack of applications to run charter schools.” Currently, there are 42 charter schools in six counties and Baltimore city. In Montgomery County, MCPS, denied proposals for new schools, The Community Montessori School run by Crossway Community, and Global Gardens Public Charter School; thus, warranting fears that local school board control has applicants facing a resistance and a process that does not promote charter schools start-up. According to the 11 News report, Ann Chafin of the Department of Education stated, “We’re hoping that this policy will offer some renewed encouragement to the systems to look at this as a way to offer something different to the parents of the school systems.” A good start to what has been stagnant for seven years.
In 2003, Former Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. signed Maryland’s first charter school law. This allowed entities, to apply to try new, innovative ways to give our children quality education. Now, Ehrlich intends to double the charters schools in Maryland, if he is re-elected as Governor in November.
On June 22, 2010, Former Gov. Ehrlich proposed that significant changes be made to the law he pushed through legislation in 2003, which helped to spearhead the charter school movement in Maryland. A press release which highlighted the three key points that Ehrlich intends to focus on during his campaign was presented. Ehrlich, like the state School Board, believes that a new authorizing body is necessary, the local district boards are impeding the successful launching of charters for reasons that are evidently biased, more capitol funding to the charter schools to help expand the number of children served, and operational freedoms. All ambitious, but not unattainable ideas, easily written into the current law.
Reform of the charter school law that Ehrlich passed almost a decade ago is a necessity in the state of Md., as changes from the federal government are being made and mandated throughout the nation. Ehrlich sees the charter movement as a “nonpartisan issue.” As he spoke at a recent round table event in Montgomery County, he stressed that charters were just another way to level the playing field for the low-income and disenfranchised student. All students have the inalienable right to a quality education, and with charters, there can be healthy competition, empowerment of families, and an opportunity for educators to create effective educational services. Of course, this is not a partisan issue, it is a civil/ human rights issue.
Under the O’Malley administration, charter schools have doubled in number with more expected to come this year, but without Ehrlich’s push, where would we be? Yes, our schools seem to be doing great, and charter schools are solidly in place. But,the current law is loosely written and needs clarity of approval authorisers roles, and amendments; such as, the addition of virtual schools in place.
As parents we are vested in our children and believe in acquiring the best for them. We all are aware that each child is an individual, and some learning styles may be better served in an alternate environment. Thus, when opportunities for innovation and creativity which engage learners in an effective way come about, it is no wonder that so many parents race to the door. Why are the waiting lists and lottery slots filling so rapidly? It is not necessarily because the whole of Maryland school system is broken, it is just that parents are looking for what fits their child best. All children deserve an equal opportunity to succeed.
The present legislation is no longer adequate. The teacher’s unions and local school boards need to work hand and hand with parents to create a charter law that benefits all. Demanding more is not a crime, accountability is a necessity and quality education is a right. At the end of the day, we are all in this fight together, our children’s futures are our future as well.
It goes without saying that charter schools are not wholly understood, there are many misconceptions out there. Fear of the unknown keeps many from moving forward, but we need to become more educated on the issue. As parents, we are our children’s best advocates and educating ourselves is our first step in our fight. Ehrlich is on the right track, with a vision aligned with state schools superintendent, Nancy Grasmick, who is expected to lobby for changes to the current charter law, at the General Assembly, in the coming session.
For more info. see below:
Center for Education Reform
Maryland Charter Schools