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The Education Debate of Charter Schools versus Public Schools

Parents want to provide their child with the best opportunity for a quality education; but what if the only option seems like a set up for failure? While children living in Harlem, New York City are guaranteed an education at their zoned school, local public schools are stigmatized by low success rates. On the other hand, public charter schools offer a viable education for children in the community, but admission is completely based upon luck.

The Lottery,” a documentary directed by Madeleine Sackler, follows four families contending for spots at Harlem Success Academy, one of New York City’s largest charter network. Emphasizing the positive results Success Charter Schools achieve as autonomous institutions, Sackler promotes them as alternatives to zoned public schools deemed ineffective. However, limited by space and high demand, there are not enough seats for all hopefuls. What are we do about the children whose only choice is to attend an underperforming school?

Charter school proponents believe that raising the cap is part of the solution; more children will have access to an exemplary education. According tScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 12.01.08 PMo an article in the Wall Street Journal, “95 percent of third-graders at Harlem Success passed the state’s English Language Arts exam in 2009. That same year, only 51 percent of third graders in P.S.149, the traditional public school that shares the same building, did.” While this statistic demonstrates a disparity, it more importantly highlights one root of the education debate.

Rules and regulations authorized by the state determine whether charter schools are provided with publicly funded facilities. Recent provisions in New York State’s Law, for example, allow charter schools that are new or adding grade levels to acquire a facility through an application process. The outcome can be a charter school receiving co-location in a district building, a private building at no cost, or funds to cover rental expenses (New York City Charter School Center). While obtaining public funds for a private space is ideal, co-location is another cost-efficient option for charter schools. Problematically, some district school supporters detest the idea of sharing a facility because classroom space will be compromised, and resources could be unequally distributed (PBS Newshour, 2014).

Furthermore, charter schools have autonomy that traditional public schools do not. While the district school system is bureaucratic, charter schools are held accountable by the contracts they design (PBS). Likewise, educators have different occupational requirements. Conventional public school educators must be traditionally credentialed and qualified, while charter school teachers can be hired on the basis of prior professional experiences (The Center for Education Reform). Additionally, many district school educators are recognized by a union, and few charter school teachers are members.

Charter school supporters argue that unions protect bad teachers. A statistic from the Department of Education revealed that in 2008, “of 55,000 tenured teachers, 10 were fired. In New York City, the cost to fire one incompetent tenured teacher is about $250,000 of taxpayer money.”

Concurrently, union supporters such as Betsy Gotbaum, an elected public advocate, contest that charter schools demoralize the unions. Unions such as the United Federations of Teachers are not anti-charter, but believe that collaboration and communication are best achieved when educators are organized and have the collective power of a union (UFT).

Moreover, although some charter school students outperform their district school counterparts, that is not all-encompassing. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that 46 percent of charter school students that experienced math score improvements were “statistically indistinguishable” from the average improvement rates shown by traditional public school students (Public School Review, 2015).

Since the film was made in 2010, the number of Success Academy schools has nearly quadrupled, and Eva Moskowitz hopes to grow the network to 100 schools within the next decade (The New York Times). Concurrently, a nationwide movement to unionize charter school teachers is growing, which could affect charter school expansion. While teachers’ unions want to support charter school educators with benefits that validate their hard work, the unions do not wish to eliminate traditional public schools along the way.

Politics aside, The Lottery asks us to REACT to existing inequalities in education and work toward a common goal; give every child the chance to succeed in life regardless of race or social class.

REACT to The Lottery:

Participate in school, district, or citywide leadership.

Vote in your local elections. The Board of Education hosts annual elections addressing district and community planning, and you can have your voice heard.

Join the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Watch the full film here: http://bit.ly/TheLotterydocu

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