While relaxing and being somewhat bored over break, I turned to Netflix – as so many do – to occupy my time. I stumbled across the 2010 Sundance Audience Award winner for best documentary film, “Waiting for ‘Superman.’”
The education-themed documentary follows a few children in their quest to be admitted into elite charter schools. The thesis is clear: Charter schools are the solution to our education woes.
It seems that unpopular Michigan governor Rick Snyder agrees with the award-winning documentary. According to a Dec. 21 article from the Michigan Education Association (MEA), the governor recently signed into law “SB 618,” also called “Public Act 277.”
The article states: “The original bill was modified so the cap is gradually lifted until 2015 when there will be no limit. Next year, the limit is 300 new charter schools and grows to 500 in 2014.”
Given the alleged widespread failings of traditional public education, many are turning to charter schools as the, well, Superman who will solve our problems.
On its website, the MEA explains, “Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter.”
Unfortunately, there are a variety of problems plaguing charter schools. Even the MEA, which seems to generally support the use of charter schools, points out it is exceedingly difficult to hold charter schools accountable to any collective standard.
Even beyond this, while the supposed academic successes of these institutions are touted as the reason for their continuation and even spread, there are two problems that arise.
First, we have empirical reason to challenge claims that students in charter schools are more successful than those in traditional public education.
After all, even the MEA acknowledges a report nicknamed “The Nation’s Report Card,” released in 2004 by the National Assessment Governing Board, which “found that charter school students, on average, score lower than students in traditional public schools.”
Second, are charter schools simply successful – if they indeed are – because of the students who populate their classrooms?
Waiting for “Superman” points out many charter schools are in high demand, meaning the success of the schools might hinge on the scarcity of the space they have.
Moreover, if charter schools are able to gather the best students in a given area, they will naturally have higher test scores.
Of course, the brains behind charter schools accounted for this – or at least, appeared to.
When there are a limited number of slots in a charter school, a random lottery is supposed to occur, whereby the school will end up with a varied student population.
There is, however, good cause to doubt this.
A Jan. 7 Education Week article, provocatively titled, “Charter Schools Enrolling Low Number of Poor Students,” challenges the notion that charter schools are picking their students randomly.
‘There are questions about whether these schools truly are open to serving everyone,’ said Erica Frankenberg, an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies charter schools.”
I too believe we should question the intent and function of these charter schools. If they are supposed to be glorified test-prep centers, career-prep facilitators or actual places for learning will have direct impact in how we assess their success or lack thereof.
“Waiting for ‘Superman’” is a thought-provoking documentary. At the very least, I hope Governor Snyder watched it so I can better understand his signing Public Act 277 into law.
Unfortunately, I think we can be content with concluding charter schools are far too riddled with kryptonite to be anything resembling Superman.