Charters and REAL public schools

Ms. Mamie Hall is a former North Carolina public school teacher, now teaching in a North Carolina charter school. Her commentary was published November 5, 2015.

Dear Ms. Hall:

The last paragraph of your News and Observer commentary said, “My hope is that we can break down the current barriers that exist between large district(s) and charters, learn from each other . . .”

As you wrote earlier in your commentary, charter schools are incubators of innovation, so we know public schools are supposed to learn from charters. That is why I was intrigued by your other idea–that charter schools should learn from public school districts. Since you offered no suggestions for what that learning might be, here are mine:

  1. Charters should learn that REAL American public schools stand for equal educational opportunity (EEO). The history of American public education is the story of the struggle to provide EEO to all students, including African Americans (Brown V. Board of Education), females (Title IX), and students with disabilities (Public Law 94-142). The equal educational opportunity ideal is expressed in the North Carolina constitution, and the constitutions of most states. North Carolina public schools are beautiful places for young people because of the educators committed to that ideal. So, charters should learn that, if they want to be REAL public schools, and if they want to join the ranks of beautiful North Carolina public schools, they must also stand for EEO.
  2. Luckily, there is an easy and productive way for charters to do that. Let’s just pick a number — let’s say for every 20 students a charter takes from a public school district’s attendance area, the public school gets to identify one student to be enrolled in the charter school.

School districts and charters can negotiate whether the ratio should be one public school student for every 10, 20, 30, or 40 public school transfers. Whatever number triggers a charter school enrollment for a public school student, we know the public school district will send the student most in need of the community structure that makes charter schools special.

Everybody wins. Charter schools becomes REAL public schools. A public school student in need of a community of educators and learners gets to enroll in a charter school. And public schools learn they should be more communitarian and less bureaucratic.

Our best public school districts already know that, which your commentary described when you recalled working in one of North Carolina’s REAL public schools.

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