To Charter or Not to Charter?

08/16/2011 04:05 pm ET | Updated Oct 16, 2011

A confession: my name is Shaun Johnson, I'm a public school advocate, and I've considered opening a charter school. I know what you might be thinking. As a colleague and friend noted, it's like picking up all of my toys and playing elsewhere, implying that I'm exiting the public school system rather than working within it.

In doing some very preliminary research and outreach, participation in the charter school movement is possible for someone like me, especially in urban areas where chartered schools are seen as viable alternatives to traditional public education. What is more, the density of metropolitan areas caters to school alternatives in ways that rural or suburban areas do not, even though one could argue that rural students, attending the only school within many miles, should be given some options as well.

One important reason why I've considered a charter school is that I've worked in one. I'm not so afraid or suspicious of them. Progressive-minded folks, myself included, tend to be wary of charter schools because of the argument that they take away from the traditional public education system. Additionally, oftentimes untrained and inexperienced leaders are given tremendous latitude to commence untested programs, only to "fail" worse than the schools they were expected to replace.

The principal reason I'm considering a charter school: public schools continue to disappoint. And this is not for the reasons you might be thinking. Unlike contemporary reformers, I don't think public schools are failing, per se. We're not in the middle of a crisis, or at least a crisis we've not already seen and weathered numerous times over. However, public school systems, at least those I experience, appear to be doubling down on Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind inspired mandates.

It's sad how quickly and comprehensively public schools have rolled over. Even as some resistance builds, giving me hope, I read about the Common Core Standards, new benchmarks, new testing contracts, and more ways to collect data. As a teacher educator, I'm caught in the middle. I'm supposed to advocate for innovative methods and the research that supports them. Yet, my abilities and expertise are ultimately stymied by the adherence to testing and data-driven requirements.

What's a person to do? If a school or an entire system is not going to play with me, then maybe I have to pick up my toys. Given that I was not even allowed to teach in a public school over the summer, it seems as if they've forced my hand a bit, haven't they?