First, I want to preface this article that I generally support charter schools (and as full disclosure I work for one), because I support having the freedom to innovate in education, and I have seen first hand how traditional regulations burden education, stopping innovation. As an example of this at the post-secondary level, by the way Title IV regulations are written, Stanford University should no longer be allowed to offer Pell Grants or other financial aid, because they tried to freely share their education with the world via several MOOCs, as I wrote about in the short paper: Why MOOCs Might Be Hindered by the Definition of Correspondence Education. This same type of unintended consequences of regulation occurs in K-12 schools also, and charter schools are one good method of helping to get around this problem.
But it is clear that if charter schools don’t do a better job of using their freedom to innovate in a more ethical manner that more regulations are going to be imposed on them, because the call for stronger oversight is getting louder because there are valid arguments the critics have, such as the recent report from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.
One such valid issue is that of mandatory volunteering that many charter schools have. But this is a nuanced issue. First, it is clear to me that parents are the first teachers of their children, and have the first responsibility to educate their children. So I think it is valid for charter schools and traditional public schools to be able to require a reasonable amount of parent participation. But it is unreasonable to require parents to have volunteering that occurs during set prescribed hours of the day when parents are working to support their children.
Yet this is what many charter schools do, and I can see the backlash coming, because it is a valid backlash. So how do we get ahead of the curve? It is fairly simple: as charter schools we must encourage policies that allow all schools to require reasonable parent participation. And if our policies are effectively “weeding out” low income students (whether inadvertently or purposely), we need to change them. And we must not be afraid to accept legitimate criticism, and use it to change. If we pretend that there are not problems with charter schools, we will find ourselves thrown out with the bad apples, because we all clung to each other.