Charter Schools? Why, Exactly?

03/07/2013 01:15 pm ET | Updated May 07, 2013

There has been constant debate surrounding charter schools. I have a very simple question that I want to explore: What's the point? I read somewhere that charter schools were originally intended to be "lab schools" for the public sector. In essence, these schools were intended to be testing grounds for new and innovative teaching techniques. Once a new technique was proven effective, it would then be integrated into the public school system. To some extent, this makes sense. It had a purpose and it would serve that purpose for everyone's benefit. I am pretty sure that is no longer the intent of charter schools. So I ask again... what's the point?

You now hear the term "school choice" when discussing the "point" of charter schools. But my confusion continues. What is the choice here? Charter schools have not proven to be any more or less effective than public schools. If charter schools were more effective, why wouldn't we want to share their knowledge and success with the public school system? I believe that charter schools and their supporters believed that they had some magic to increase student achievement. This has not come even close to being proven in the data. But even if they did, why would they want to eliminate public education from their new-found success?

We have politicians pouring tons of money into charter schools, with no benefit in return. I would like to propose that they take that money and put it toward the public school system that has been proven effective for hundreds of years. Why does our government continue to pour money into a failed experiment?

In Pennsylvania, there has been a lot of debate about charter schools and the fairness in comparing them to the public school system. Here are some interesting facts about charter schools in Pennsylvania:

  • Only 75% of teachers who work in Charter Schools are required to be certified teachers by the state.
  • Charter Schools select, via lottery, who attends their school.
  • Charter schools do not have to enforce truancy laws.
  • Charter Schools are not required to use IEPs and they do not have to turn in Special Education reports to the state.
  • So again, the simple question is... what's the point? We are spending a great deal of money on a system of education that is not only following a different set of rules, but also is not performing any better or worse than public education.

    The CREDO study in 2008 came to one conclusion while looking at 15 states' Charter School programs and compared them to the public school program. It states "Some charters do better; the majority do the same or worse than public schools.

    Here is a novel idea. Let's take the millions of dollars being spent in the failed experiment of Charter Schools and place it back where it belongs, in the hands of the general public education system. Let's put that money into a system that has been steadfast and strong for hundreds of years. Let's take a serious look at the educational research that supports spending additional money on professional development for teachers and new technologies that will allow our schools to become competitive on an international stage.

    Let's go back to the beginning of America and find the words spoken by great Americans that still hold true today.

    Then join in hand, brave Americans all--
    By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!

    - John Dickinson's "Liberty Song" 18 July 1768

    If we can unite the charters and the public school system and create a public system where everyone benefits, then we will all prosper educationally. Divided, as we are now, we will both surely fail.