Parental freedom and educational nourishment

What if your city officials said to you, “As long as you live here, you will only shop at one grocery store — the one we choose for you.”

If you could get past the arrogance and the restriction on your freedom, you might be able to live with that dictate as long as your assigned store had what you need. 

But what if that store didn’t have the food or other products you want or need for your children? And what if your city officials — who also owned the store — didn’t accommodate your request?

Change grocery store to school, and you have a picture of our public school system today. As long as you live in a certain area, your child is assigned to a particular school, regardless of whether that school meets your child’s needs. You can choose a different school as long as you can afford to move to another district, send your children to a private school or teach them at home. 

That can change if the Legislature amends our state law to allow charter schools to be created. 

Charter schools are public schools that are created to meet students’ educational needs in unique ways. Charter public schools are given freedom from some rules and regulations that traditional public schools have to follow. In return for that freedom, they are held to a higher level of accountability for their results. If the school succeeds, it continues and possibly expands. If the school fails, it closes. 

Are they effective? Some studies say yes, some say no. But the best studies — those which measure progress over time — tend to show that students in charter schools outperform their traditional school counterparts, especially in states with a strong charter school law. 

Opponents say charter school students do better because they have motivated parents and would succeed whether or not they were in a charter school. But a study released last year  by a team of researchers from Harvard, MIT, Duke and the University of Michigan compared students who enrolled in charter schools and those who wanted to enroll but couldn’t because of space limitations.

In other words, they compared children of similarly-motivated parents. They also compared students who had similar academic achievement and other traits during an earlier school year when they were all in traditional schools.

The researchers found that charter school students performed dramatically better. The researchers said they were surprised by the magnitude of the difference.

 

Charter schools: 

n are voluntary. Parents choose to send their children and teachers choose to teach there, giving them a sense of ownership, in contrast to many school districts where parents and teachers are disregarded and feel hopeless that they can influence any change.

n as public schools, are funded in essentially the same manner as regular public schools. Most actually spend less per student than traditional schools.

n are often created around a certain subject area or teaching style, but all students are required to take the same state tests as other public schools.

n are usually more racially balanced than the regular schools around them. 

n can be organized by anyone but must enter into a contract with the local or state school board to ensure that they are successful.

n can be housed anywhere that meets health and safety regulations.

To learn more about charter schools go to www.ParentPower.net. 

Children need their minds fed as well as their bodies. It’s time to give parents the freedom to choose — and even help create — schools that provide the educational nourishment their children need.

 

Forest Thigpen is president of Mississippi Center for Public Policy, an independent, non-profit organization based in Jackson. You can reach him at thigpen@mspolicy.org.

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