Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

March 02, 2003

PTA skips homework on charter schools

The Maryland PTA has released its formal position on Senate Bill 388, the Public Charter School Act of 2003. In a written statement prepared for the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, Elizabeth Crosby, president of the organization, said that all 250,000 members oppose SB 388 primarily because they believe "the bill directly takes parents out of the process of the education of their children." It goes on to say that "there is no assurance that parents will have a direct or indirect role in the governance of these charter schools."

It's clear that the representatives of this organization haven't done their homework, and I'm disappointed that no one from the association took the time to attend the hearing in order to learn the facts before stating such a categorical (and inaccurate) objection. In fact, a great many public charter schools are actually founded by parents who play a large role in determining the curriculum and instructional methods from the beginning. Parents can preside over charter school operations and hire people to teach according to the philosophy of the school. This is a much more direct involvement than is possible in a large system.

Plus, parents along with teachers can exercise direct leadership roles in the school's management and are instrumental in developing other opportunities for greater parent participation. For example, many public charter schools offer parental activities like workshops, support groups, and regularly scheduled meetings. These schools present opportunities for parents to volunteer at the school, and some even require parents to volunteer their time, both in the classroom and around the school. They frequently offer parents at-home learning activities to support school objectives, and may require parents to sign the homework completed by their child.

In general, public charter schools have higher rates of parent involvement than other public schools and make parent participation a core aspect of their learning process.

The Maryland PTA statement further asserts that "the bill removes the local control for Charter Schools from the local Boards of Education." Again, it's clear the organization didn't take the time to find out the facts on this matter before issuing their position. In fact, individuals who want to start a public charter school must go through an extensive process of applying to a chartering authority to receive their charter and begin their school. The chartering authority holds the public charter school accountable and oversees its performance. They make certain the school is meeting the expected goals and that the students are learning. If they don't, the chartering authority has the power to close them by revoking their charter.

When the Maryland PTA further states that "there is no direct accountability or fiscal responsibility from those who operate a Charter School to the taxpayers of each county or city," it is again speaking from a position of misunderstanding. A local board's ability to shut down a public charter school that isn't educating the students is the kind of accountability that has been absent from public schools too long. Charter school accountability is based on goals set and the extent to which the school is meeting them.

Traditional public schools that consistently fail to meet their goals do a disservice to students by passing them on to the next grade and continuing to keep the school open. Charter schools that consistently fail to meet their goals lose their funding, have their charters revoked, and are closed down. This is an important and powerful measure of accountability and fiscal responsibility. Also, public charter schools are accountable not only to the public that funds the school, the chartering authority who grants the charter, but to the parents who choose the school. Between fiscal audits and annual reports, charter schools are scrutinized for meeting educational goals and fiscal responsibility. Beyond the numbers, if parents are not happy with a charter school, they are free to choose to send their child to another school. Every child and employee in a public charter school is there by choice.

The Maryland PTA ends its statement by asking a series of questions about public charter schools. I find it ironic that an organization that represents parents and teachers would issue a statement of opposition before finding out the answers to these questions. In fact, experts addressed many of these important questions in their testimonies at the hearing on Feb. 6.

It's clear that the Maryland PTA is ill-informed about public charter schools. ... [Its leaders] owe it to their 250,000 members, many of whom are parents, to learn the facts about this new model of public education.

State Sen. Janet Greenip

Crofton

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