Charter School Alternative

Why They Are Better For Both The Public & Students

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Better From The Taxpayer Perspective:

Public school districts are asking taxpayers to approve outlandish bonds, examples in the Flint Michigan suburban area being Linden at a whopping $70 million, and Lake Fenton asking for $40 million twice in 1999 and $30 million March 12, 2002. 

Yet charter schools are building new facilities and delivering as good or better services to the public without levying such bonds.  Why should residents approve these large tax increases?

It makes much more sense to add charter schools in or near districts where enrollment is exceeding school capacity.  Loss of students to charters will encourage public schools to work to achieve their full potential, and tax payers benefit by having lower taxes.

Also, changing demographics, namely an increasingly aging population, means that high school taxes harm the elderly who are living on fixed incomes, harm anyone who is suffering during a recession, and discourage location of business in those communities.  Elderly and childless homes consistently vote against bond issues.

As the elderly population increases, their vote combined with the childless couple vote, and the vote of parents whom the public schools have alienated, means that passage of bonds will become increasingly more difficult, if not impossible.

In the end we can expect that infrastructure funding will have to be funded at the state level, likely in the form of a larger per student allocation of funds.  I expect that this will occur within the next five years.

Here is the problem with passing long term bonds now, in that communities which do so will likely be double taxed once the state picks up funding.

The School Environment

Coming from a family of teachers, I started out with a strong bias against the idea of charter schools.  But a decade of dealing with a public school (Lake Fenton), and both my personal childhood experiences and numerous similar stories I have heard from others, have changed my mind.  

Reduced to it's essence, my experience has been that the pubic school had a significant percentage (20%-30%)of indifferent, lazy, or outright belligerent teachers, and an administration which either could not - or would not reign in those teachers.  Even worse is the fact that the  school board did not even bother to respond to letters.  In addition to those problems is the issue that the middle and high schools either would not or could not ensure that students treated one another with respect, and they allowed the majority to consistently degrade a minority. For details follow the link above.  

I spent a number of years evaluating the charter movement.  First I joined a charter list server, lurking and learning.  When I founded www.InventorEd.org and created a children's section ( www.InventorEd.org/k-12/ ) one of the first things I did was broadcast the existence of the resource on many internet forums which focused on education.  I received much more feedback from parents home schooling their children and charter schools then from public schools.

What this told me is that the people working in charter schools were on balance more motivated than the majority of their public school counterparts.

Lake Fenton public schools have many good teachers, unfortunately the high percentage of teachers who were not so good caused me to move my older daughter to Mott Middle College when she was in ninth grade.  Mott Middle College is an alternative public high school located on the Mott Community College campus.  It is part of a consortium of alternative schools (See High School, With a College Twist).  In my opinion this school has the same flavor as a charter school.  This shows that a public school can be run right, it's a shame that so many do not make the grade.

Picking A Charter In My Area

Charter schools vary in competence the same as public schools, but they do seem to be more motivated and overall offer a better environment than most public schools.  Still there were a number of factors to be considered in choosing a charter school.  

The first, and easiest characteristic to evaluate was proximity.  Which schools were within a reasonable distance and which were serviceable by our public transportation system.  These factors narrowed the choices to three or four facilities.

The next step was to research each school.  To look for comments about the schools on internet forums and other sources, and to locate and quiz people who had experience with the schools.

I chose Grand Blanc Academy.  A big factor in my selection was the opinions of other parents who had children at the school.  Another was the building, which is just a few years old, insulated and air conditioned.

My younger daughter has some impairments, and is in special education.  A big bone of contention with her previous school (Lake Fenton) was over her receiving an extended school year to mitigate the fact that she looses skills which are not reinforced over summer break.

Lake Fenton school district had denied her summer programming for a number of years.  All I ever asked for was that she attend the normal summer school, which they did agree to eventually.  The first year she received summer programming was great, in that we had her attend the morning summer school while she was fresh, and then attend the afternoon summer recreation in the afternoons to facilitate her improving her speech and language skills through play and interaction with other children.

But for a variety of reasons she was denied part of the summer programming in subsequent years, and she was given no summer programming for the summer of 2001.

So in June of 2001 I inquired about enrolling her at Grand Blanc Academy.  Their school year is a month longer then the public schools.  Which meant that right off she was getting the extended school year with no hassles.  

But there is more, in that their school made extensive use of computers.  And they stressed a hands on curriculum, which in my experience is much better for many children.  Their staff was open and friendly.  They constantly stressed treating others with respect, something which was a big problem at Lake Fenton Torrey Hill Middle School when my older daughter was there.

They allowed my daughter to attend classes for a number of days, and she loved the place.  So I enrolled her.

But it gets even better.  They had half day summer school for all but two weeks of the summer.  They cheerfully allowed her to attend summer school.  She made significant gains, working with two lovely and highly motivated teachers.  Special mention and thanks is in order for Senora, who really inspired my daughter.

I have been quite pleased with their approach to special education and teaching in general.  The only problem I have seen is that perhaps staff is stretched too thin.  There is no doubt that the teachers must work harder than most public school teachers do.  

Now many public school teachers do work as hard, at least those who are dedicated.  But in the public schools those who are not motivated can get away with being slackers, while I get the impression the charters will not put up with less motivated teachers.  The Saginaw, Michigan school which is associated with the Grand Blanc Academy had over forty 15" super vga monitors, many which were new in the box, which were excess inventory.  I brokered donation of those monitors to the Lake Fenton School district. 

More information about charter schools:
Charter Schools Google Search, about 500,000 links

More information about Grand Blanc Academy:
Mosaica Education
Grand Blanc Academy Google Search

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Charter Schools in Michigan

Charter Schools Online Discussions and E-Mail Lists

Homeschooling Online Discussions and E-Mail Lists

For-Profit Schools - Business Week


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