Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Charters on the Upper West?

What is the role of charter schools beyond the most needy communities? I think charters should be allowed in more affluent neighborhoods, and it might actually be really good for the reform movement to increasingly grow into middle class communities. First, the schools and their networks can learn from that diversity and bring it back to their low-income schools... and second it might be good to take teachers with experience working with families in neighborhoods like Harlem and the South Bronx and facilitate a cultural exchange with more affluent, white families...

At the same time, two big challenges for charters and the middle class they might hope to serve come to mind, considering that 75 new charters will be opened in NYC by the end of Bloomberg's third term. The middle and upper class families, given their capital and educational expectations, when considering charters as an option, will most likely confront issues of space and institutional development.

(1) Space. Space in a school has a powerful impact on learning, from environmental concerns, major distractions from poor heating and lighting, scheduling conflicts in shared spaces, and low teacher retention associated with the frustrations emanating from a poor space. Young charters rarely have an ideal space (especially when they are only enrolling one grade at a time) and serious sacrifices are made to the detriment of the students.

(2) Time for growth and development. If I were a parent I might consider sending my student to a networked charter like KIPP or Achievement First because it would have that network support. However independent start ups I would probably avoid in their first few years. The real scarcity of money, talent, leadership, and the difficulty of designing and implementing good curriculum and well designed organization frameworks places education of the child in real jeopardy. I don't know that I'd take that risk with my child.

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