Charter Schools vs. District Schools: A Manufactured War

There is a manufactured “war” going on in education and it’s something I believe must be addressed –  the one supposedly between district schools and charter schools. Here is a secret: this is not a battle among parents.

Before I go any further, let me be completely transparent. I am a parent of three – two kids attend public charter schools, and one attends a traditional public school. From time to time I substitute teach in Buffalo Public Schools.  I also work for a charter school advocacy organization, the Northeast Charter Schools Network, and before that I worked for an all Black school choice advocacy organization. Finally, I attended the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, a choice school.

First, the idea for charter schools came from one of the most powerful teachers’ unions in the nation, the American Federation of Teachers. It didn’t come from mystery corporations, lawyers, hedge fund managers, or evil-doers. The idea was to create a new type of public school where teachers had the freedom to innovate and create to meet the needs of their students.

Second, somehow we have been conditioned to think if you support charter schools as an option for parents, that you must also be against district schools -- and vice versa. That simply is not the case – take my family for example. We have kids in charters and district schools and many families do the same, because one-size does not fit all in education. Different kids have different needs. 

thumbnail.JPGDuncan Kirkwood and his family in Buffalo

In many cities, districts work very closely with charter schools to find best practices to replicate. Take for instance Washington, DC  where district and charter teachers routinely come together for the good of their students. In these places, the adults are respecting parents and rising above the pettiness of the district vs charter divide.

This pretend war makes me so angry because charter school leaders and parents have no desire to detract from district schools. I call it pretend because in actuality charter schools ARE public schools. It’s written into New York State law.

And in fact, here in Buffalo almost every charter school opened their doors to Superintendent Kriner Cash to talk about their successes and how districts could emulate them. Charter leaders are looking to have collaborative relationships. 

Third, supporting a parent’s right to choose a charter school doesn’t mean that you are somehow disillusioned to believe that every charter school is flawless. Not every school looks like Elmwood Village Charter School, South Buffalo Charter School, or West Buffalo Charter School. Some charter schools need a lot of work, some need may need to be closed and some do - but that doesn’t mean we should go back to a system where low-income parents are prisoners of their ZIP codes as it relates to education.  

Fourth, there are some outstanding teachers and administrators in Buffalo Public Schools, and they might be able to do incredible things if they had the freedom and flexibility that charter schools are given. So let’s give it to them and let’s hold them accountable too; a great benefit of having charter schools is to replicate what works in the district schools. 

Perhaps most importantly, education is supposed to be about the children and what is best for them. So, whatever we are calling a tuition free school that is educating our children at a high level is something we should be trying to support and grow. Because if it was your child, if it was your family - you would want the best school possible so that they could thrive.

I’ll end with this: we have so many divisions and distractions in our community, wanting great educational options for the children of this city doesn’t have to be one of them. We need to find ways to work together for make sure ALL students have access to a world class education. 

Duncan is the Western New York Advocacy Manager for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.

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Charter Schools vs. District Schools: A Manufactured War
Charter Schools vs. District Schools: A Manufactured War
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