To those who see a billboard stating “Charters Divide Communities” and have a visceral and possibly negative response, we ask you to pause a moment and dispassionately reflect on the message. Even if you don’t have a strong reaction, pondering the words and reasons for them, serves a purpose.
We understand there may be an emotional reaction to seeing the statement.
Yes, it’s a large sign.
But it does not refer to an individual school, community, or group.
It points out a significant flaw in our current public education system – that it IS divided.
Charters are negatively impacting the public school system and divided communities are the result. In fact, communities all over America are experiencing difficulty with this dichotomy. As charter opponents, we aren’t prompting discussion and spreading information about the charter system to cause harm, but to educate people about the deleterious effects this current dual system is causing our communities by separating us into two groups.
A sign pointing out the existing division may be deemed excessive or unnecessary by some, but we believe families are genuinely unaware of the damage charters cause to our educational institutions and public commons. We truly can’t imagine charter supporters are knowingly contributing to harm. Therefore, we believe educating our communities is essential if we are to have open and honest conversations – ones where both sides are listening and being heard. We believe voters should understand the broader situation so that they can vote for elected officials who support charter reform and meaningful changes to the system. If it takes a giant sign to spark a civil conversation, well, hello large orange sign. Because without informed discussion, how can we progress toward healing this rift?
The dual school system with both charters and truly public schools sets up a competitive situation. As currently configured, this allows for selective enrollment in charter schools as opposed to neighborhood public schools that admit all students equally. Both self-selection on the part of families choosing charters and charter school selection criteria, enable charter schools to define their student populations in a way that doesn’t occur in the truly public school system. Relegating students to the status of market share and treating our children as a commodity to fight over, when all students, by law, are guaranteed equal access to educational resources not only feels wrong, but it is the charter system’s very structure that leads to segregation and it is happening all over the country, even in “liberal” Marin County. In fact, just recently a charter school in Sausalito was disciplined by the State Attorney General and is being monitored for segregation.
Innovation and improved student performance are often key arguments of the need for charter schools. However, while skewed data samples -due to the charter selection process- make any attempt to accurately compare student outcomes challenging, it has generally been the case that truly public schools and charter schools perform virtually the same on standardized tests. If anything, it is the case that public schools more often outperform charters.
So, not only is our educational system (and our communities) divided and students segregated, but the promised outcomes are often not realized.
By design, charter schools are less regulated than truly public schools and the public education system. The primary argument for this deregulation was the promise of innovation unencumbered by public school administration and regulation. However, this lack of regulation has come with a lack of appropriate oversight and that has resulted in nearly daily scandals involving charter schools and the misuse of public funds. In fact, as currently structured, unless approved and administered by publicly elected local or county officials, charter schools are an example of taxation without representation and privatization of our public funds and oftentimes our public commons.
A major benefit to working within the existing system is that there is a publicly-elected Board to hold the district and public schools accountable, but also to whom we can bring new and creative ideas, and who can themselves be held accountable when necessary. This same accountability doesn’t exist where most charters are concerned, and it is just one more division between the two school structures. Funding is always a challenge and competition for dollars (aka students), should not be a driver for public education; wanting kids to receive high quality learning should be the focus.
Adding insult to injury, the regulated public education system depleted by funds siphoned by charter schools, does not allow for corporate financial gain. So corporations and their foundations have neglected the public education system in favor of charters they can use as a private investment opportunity and profit stream. This privatization of education through the charter system, means corporations are able to grant hefty donations and establish a stake in a charter school - or schools - and in turn extract public funding, in the form of profit, from those schools. In addition, investors, realizing they can capitalize on real estate acquisition or management software, text book and hardware sales, has resulted in the significant growth of corporate and individual investment in charter schools over the last decade. So while Walmart refuses to pay their employees a living wage, or offer most of them comprehensive health care, their foundation readily donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to charter schools every year. One doesn’t have to wonder if there is financial gain for them to be so uncharacteristically generous - it’s obvious.
It is natural for any parent to want what is best for their child and to voice concern or disagreement when a publicly funded organization isn’t delivering the access, service and/or support promised. And we don’t hold parents accountable for the misdeeds of the charter system or those profiting off of it. But we do hope families will do their research about the impact of charters on public education and the students who remain at their neighborhood public schools and we also hope prospective parents will review the sources of income their chosen charter school receives, to ensure a philosophical alignment with investors who will have a stake in the school.
And for those who say not all kids fit into a mold and public schooling wasn’t working, we hear that and agree that kids learn differently, and some need a different approach. There is always room from improvement in any classroom and school district – and those of us with students in the public school system are raising our voices in support of expanding alternative teaching methods and techniques, and improved learning environments to help all learners in an inclusive manner. We’re opting to improve the truly public system for everyone. Imagine how amazing it would be if all of the active charter parents brought their energy and intention to their neighborhood public schools. Imagine what a united community could do. Imagine if resources weren’t divided but were put to use for the collective betterment for all students. This isn’t a fantasy but the vision for public education when it was established and it is attainable if we all come together and work to make it a reality.
We understand that there are earnest, hard-working and dedicated parents supporting charter schools who just want what is best for their kids. Because we are you. Just in the other school system, and struggling to reunite our community.
Kelly McMenimen Sat, Aug 24, 7:34 AM
Open Letter to members of Stand:
Shame on you, Stand. As a mother of a child in the regular public school system, I am calling you out and saying, “Enough is enough!” Stop bullying hard-working, deeply-caring parents who want their children to experience a different kind of education than the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all version that is offered in mainstream public schools.
I dropped off my son at White Hill for his first day of seventh grade, and then went to do some errands. As I was driving from one errand to another, I saw an enormous sign being pulled back and forth (I saw it going one direction one hour and then another direction another hour) along Sir Francis Drake. This sign was absolutely enormous and it said, “Charters Divide Communities.” I was dumbstruck.
I could not believe that Stand would stoop so low as to parade this incredibly divisive sign around our community on the first day of school! This sign, which actually looked like a giant “wall,” was a way of bullying and shaming children and families! And its message is completely inaccurate. All the local charter families who I know are kind, tolerant, caring people. Not community dividers, but people who contribute a lot to our diverse and vibrant community.
Later I saw the sign parked on the hill right near the campus where the incredibly loving and well-intentioned community of Heartwood parents are trying to give their children an education that is a little bit different from a typical mainstream school, but oh-so-valuable in our world today. Seeing that sign in these places yesterday made me almost ashamed to have my son in a non-charter public school.
There is no one creating division here except you, members of Stand. You are the ones who created that wall and put those nasty, blaming words on it, and paraded it around our community on the first day of school. Just as Trump is demonizing immigrants and trying to make them into the problem, you are demonizing innocent families and trying to portray them as a problem where they are not. If there is any problem in our community, it is the problem of your divisiveness and intolerance of difference.
I am fortunate, because my son is very easy-going and adaptable and he gets along well in every school he has ever been in. Granted, the Marin public schools are pretty darn good for many students. I am happy with my son’s experience in Lagunitas School District and Ross Valley School District. But I am an educator myself, and I have seen many, many children who are not as easy-going and adaptable as my son. There are children who do much better in environments that are less stimulating than your typical public school classroom. I myself have been concerned, as a parent, at the early age at which children in public schools are being given screens for education and entertainment (during recess and other breaks), despite all the studies that show that screen-time stunts child development. We sent our son to Heartwood for two years for precisely that reason—because we did not feel that the mainstream public school system aligned with our parenting values. We valued our son having a more media-free, hands-on, and nature-connected education. And what I saw while we were at Heartwood is that it has the most incredible, loving, dedicated, earnest community of parents imaginable, and they all work like crazy to make their under-funded educational collaborative work for their children. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the parents who put in so much time and energy to make charter schools work.
Charter parents are parents who are bending over backward, at great personal cost, to create a creative educational situation that will work better for their child, or a situation that will better align with their values, since the regular public school system is unable to do that. Our local charters have done nothing to harm you or anyone in our community. All they want is a chance to be a little different and to exist, creating more diversity and choice in our community. Many charter school parents would otherwise be homeschooling their children, because of their sensitivity to their child’s needs or because of their family’s values, so the money that is going to them is not taking away from the regular public school system. But beyond that, charter schools are public schools. That is the whole point of charters—they are creating public alternatives for families that don’t fit well in the mainstream public system. Choice should not be the exclusive province of the wealthy.
If there are problems with charters, like private siphoning of funds, or lack of oversight, that is not the fault of the earnest parents who just want a way to provide a workable education for their children. That is the fault of the state, who should be overseeing charters, not letting private institutions do that, and supporting them and holding them accountable to the standards other schools are held to, as appropriate.
Charters offer an alternative style of education for the children and families that most need it and who cannot afford or do not want to send their children to private school.
As such, charters honor and support diversity. Charters create choices. Charter schools honor the creative spirit of America. What I have seen over the last 18 years of involvement with Marin Public schools is that charter schools seem to have provided models and impetus for other public schools to evolve. Charter schools actually enrich communities.
Only you are dividing this community. Stand down, Stand.
mother of a student in the Ross Valley School District