Charter schools aren’t the answer to state’s education problems
In the mid-1990s, two issues that captured my attention were bullying and increasing the number of counselors in elementary schools. I urged my fellow PTA members attending Legislative Assembly to make “my issues” the Washington State PTA’s priority issues.
Why were they my issues? In sixth grade, I experienced having my head slammed repeatedly into a concrete bathroom floor during school. While a teenager, my mother broke my nose. I left home in my sophomore year. My grandmother became my legal guardian and then unexpectedly died.
While finishing high school and working part time, I became an emancipated minor. Using current terminology, you would have called me an “at-risk” student.
Today’s stressed-out “at-risk” students are often shared as data points on graphs. They are labeled, tested and tracked to ensure teachers are doing their jobs.
Struggling students might attend classes just two days per week, have undiagnosed dyslexia, and frequently move with their families from city to city. Many of our kids live among gang members, drug abusers and alcoholics.
They learn early about meth and pot, have disabilities and undiagnosed mental health issues, have incarcerated parents, experience domestic violence. All are expected to get their homework turned in (even if the light goes out in the car they live in).
Children of dysfunctional families are stuck in a cycle. Their parents struggle with literacy. One in three girls and one in five boys will become the victim of abuse by the age of 18 (the national average). Adequate mental health services are out of reach. Absenteeism rates grow; the parents aren’t at home. Autism rates have increased to one in 100.
When I served on the Tacoma School Board, I heard testimony at school-closure hearings. Parents and educators insisted our community needed strong neighborhood schools offering small class sizes and lots of support for their students and families.
Parents wanted to know their kids were safe. They urged board members to keep their schools open. This would help to maintain the positive learning relationships students had established with teachers and caring adults. They begged for their schools to be saved.
The current system is not failing and is not in a crisis; it is serving most students well. The challenges come from our failure to adequately serve at-risk students. Resources must go to providing early learning, wrap-around services, and counseling that will ensure these kids succeed.
Charter schools are not the solution to these challenges. Pro-charter school people will work hard to convince you it is. Pro-charter school people want to hire or fire “at will” and turn personalized education into “business outcomes” that generate profits while paying inexperienced “new” teachers less.
Thirty years of inadequately funding education must be addressed. Stop validating the pretend “failing” label given to struggling schools using the flawed No Child Left Behind evaluation tool.
Keep charter schools out of our neighborhoods. More than ever before, we need to support the schools we have, and we need to engage our community.
Kim Golding is a former member of the Tacoma school board and a founding member of Parents Across America Tacoma.