When Deciding Public Versus Charter…

One of the biggest decisions that you will ever make as a parent is deciding where to send your children to school. Depending on your finances, you may have a choice between sending them to a public school or a private school. If you decide on a public school, most times than not, your child will attend the neighborhood school. That school could be good or bad; no matter the case if you go public, you don’t realize have a choice in the matter. In this country, your zip code determines where you attend school. So while schools are legally desegregated along racial lines, they are not along economic lines… unfortunately where schools are concerned, racial and economic lines tend to be one and the same, but I digress.

If you reside in an inner-city, in addition to the neighborhood traditional public school, you may have charter school or schools that your child can attend. Public schools that have always existed are coined traditional public schools because they are the original. Charter schools are usually public entities as well; however their form of governance, the regulations upon them and how they are financed are a bit different from the traditional public schools. Once could say that attending a charter school is a function of school choice, but the concept of choice schooling is different. Choice schooling says that if you live in an area with an under-performing or less than adequate school district, you can send your child to a school district that is not under-performing. It is no guarantee that they will attend school in a great school district… it just means that they’ll no longer attend the under-performing one they’ve been attending. The problem with that is there is the potential for a mass exodus of Black and Brown students to suburban schools – schools many believe are better than inner-city schools (although it is important to note that all suburban schools are not created nor administered equal). To prevent such an exodus from the inner-city, a different kind of choice was created for families in the inner-cities.

In Camden, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania there is a host of other “choices” or as I think them, alternatives, to the traditional public schools. If you live in an inner-city anywhere in the United States, you may also see that there are traditional public schools and charter schools to choose from. Advocates for education reform go out of their way to say that the creation of school independent of a traditional school district categorized as charters or something else is a new age of educational competition designed to offer parents in inner-cities the opportunity to send their children to the best schools available. What parents must know is that the new found “competition” is really nothing more than an alternative to the traditional public school district. The choice is simple if you live in an inner-city; you can either have the traditional public school district and the traditional school that your child will go to or you can choose to send your child to a charter school network; whichever network is available in the municipality. Some municipalities have multiple charter networks that are independently ran or are a part of a greater collaborative. As a parent, you’re concerned about a few things, but high on your list of course is (1) the education that your child will receive and (2) the safety of your child while at school. If the school can provide your child with a good education in a safe environment, you’re probably going to send your child to that school. But there are nuances to choosing between a traditional public school and a charter school that cannot be ignored when deciding where to send your child.

The traditional public school is a state run enterprise. The state is in charge of educating your child; that has always been there responsibility. A charter school or network in a school district that is labeled “failing” is a result of the state attempting to meet its obligation to educate every child – or pass off their responsibility for failing to educate a specific category of children, but I digress. Charter schools are typically created by those seeking to reform the public education of children of color. Many of these folks have different strategies and methods for educating children in inner-city school districts. Many of the strategies are specific for children of color; implemented by individuals who subscribe to race-based pathologies that are inherently flawed and racist in nature. These individuals may be kind hearted and their schools may want for your children to be educated, however, there are methods for doing so may not align with your own idea for how your children should be educated. In response to such charges of racist-informed instructional and discipline strategies, leadership in these schools have decided to engage in diversity and cultural competence trainings to inform White educators on how to teach, discipline and enact school policies for students of color absent of racial biases and White privilege in an attempt to prevent the overuse of exclusionary discipline i.e. detention, suspensions and expulsions. Some schools however, continue with such practices of the overuse of exclusionary discipline for children of color – even after providing their staff with such cultural competency training.

Unfortunately, states have not always met their obligation to provide a quality education for children who reside in their inner-cities. Charter schools have become a favorite of politicians because it affords them the opportunity to divert responsibility on to someone else. You should ask yourself the question, why aren’t charter schools located in suburban areas as they are in inner-city and urban areas, but again, I digress. The answer to that question leads to an even higher truth that does not solve the issue of where to send your child to school; wrestling with that answer is another battle for another day. When deciding whether to send your child to a charter school or a traditional public school, consider the following questions when making your decision (these questions are in no particular order of importance):


  1. What is the educational philosophy of the school district or charter organization? The educational philosophy is very important because it is this philosophy that sets the tone and atmosphere for the education of your child and his/her peers.
  2. What are the demographics for teachers and administrators along racial and gender lines? As I’ve said in previous post, the majority of teachers tend to be White and female. White females are capable of teaching students; however there have been multiple studies done that talk about the strained relationship between white teachers (particularly White female teachers) and students of color (particularly Black male students). You should look for school where there are both educators of color and male educators of color. Such demographics can make all the difference in the education of your child.
  3. What does the data say? I am not a huge fan of data and numbers because they don’t always tell the whole story on what a child knows and how effective a school is, but you can get a snapshot of the academic success of the school overall by checking out the test score results for that school. You can find such information of your state’s department of education website. This can offer you some insight as to how your child may perform on state test as well as forecasting if your child will be on par with his or her peers statewide and nationwide.
  4. What does the community say about the school? Find out the reputation of the school within the community. This will give you a chance to see how this school touches the lives of people. Do not limit your research to those who send their children to the school. Reach out to alumni and parents of alumni (if there are any). Reach out to local businesses, local nonprofits and other community activists and advocates in the community. These different constituencies can give you a good idea as to the importance and the impact of the school community in the community. However know that these people will come to you with their biases. So just weigh the opinions of those who give them to you carefully.
  5. Is this school better than him the local private in my neighborhood? In many inner-cities you will find possibly a private School; usually a Catholic school or other religious school. The appeal of charter schools is that it’s a free alternative to traditional public schools. However, there are parents who choose to send their children to private school if they can afford it. You should weigh the traditional public school and the charter school against the performance of the private school in your area to give you an idea on what those schools lack so that if you choose to send your child there, you can hold them accountable.
  6. Is the school good enough for the children of those who run the school? Whether it is a traditional public school or a charter school, do the folks who run the school or the folks who teach at the school send their children there? If it’s good for the principal’s child or a teacher’s child then you may reason the school to be good enough for your child. At the very least knowing that someone who is a principal or teacher that sends their child to the school where they work gives you confidence to know that that principal or teacher believes in what that school is doing; so much so that they themselves have committed their most precious resource to the people of that school. That’s a good indication to let you know that maybe you can do the same.
  7. Does the school have a connection to a 2-year or 4-year college or university? This matters greatly. If a charter school or traditional public school has an attachment to a college or university, there is the potential for programming that sets your child up to attend that school – possibly for free. For example. Rutgers University has linked with inner-city school districts where the university is located with the promise to send students to Rutgers free of cost if they maintain certain grades an attend pre-college training programs. If your child attends either a traditional public school or charter school that is attached to a four-year college or university and they have scholarship programs and duel enrollment programs that enable children to attend that school, it is a no brainer to me because now your child has a pathway to college.
  8. Does the traditional public school or charter school offer community services? Does the school offer a free clinic, do they offer free after school programs, do they offer summer enrichment programs, do they offer daycare for families… if a school or district/organization offers such services to help you with your parenting needs it is another plus to sending your child to that district/organization.
  9. Does the traditional public school or charter have a family atmosphere? You want your child to feel at home at the school that you send them to and you want to feel at home as well. There’s nothing worse than a school that does not make parents, students and families feel welcome upon arrival. I don’t mean a pseudo-family atmosphere. I mean a genuine and sincere family atmosphere where it doesn’t have to be communicated verbally but you feel it immediately. If your school has this then that might be a place where your child can thrive.
  10. Is the school safe without having to look like they’re trying to be safe? You want your child to attend a school that is safe. However, you want to make sure that your child’s school doesn’t look like a prison. Nor do you want your child’s school to treat the students like prisoners. The school to prison pipeline is real; it isn’t something someone created to sell books and get a TV show. Schools help facilitate its existence by creating an atmosphere of law and order that really means “we will police your children to insure that they learn.” No parent wants to send their child to a school where they think their child will be unsafe. All schools have an obligation to make sure that children are safe, but they can do so in a way that does not make that child feel like school walls are really prison walls. How a school looks and how a school treats students’ means a great deal to the well-being of the students and families who engage with that school every day. Makes sure that the school you choose has safety as a priority while at the same time not making it obvious and making students uncomfortable.

There are many more questions that you should consider asking when deciding whether to send your child to a traditional public school or a charter school. You might decide you don’t want to send them to either; however you have to make a choice for one reason or another. Inner-city schools are not a death sentence for children of color. But you cannot leave it up to any school to educate your child. American schooling is European in nature – they do not go out of their way to account for the best ways to teach students of color nor do they account the best ways students of color learn, interact with one another or express themselves. As the parent you are the first teacher your child ever had. You are your child’s loudest, strongest and ferocious advocate. Make sure that wherever you send your child, you hold that school accountable for educating your child and for not making your child another negative statistic. No matter your socio-economic status, you have the power and the right to determine the educational prospects of your child. Don’t let any politician, reformer, educator make you think that you don’t have that power and that right. But also… TEACH YOUR CHILD YOURSELF ABOUT HIS OR HER CULTURE, HERITAGE AND HISTORY. If you need to learn of such things yourself… LEARN THEM FOR YOURSELF.

Let us continue to press toward the mark!


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