Charter schools offer new hope for excellence in education, and the libertarian minded among us are certainly ready for that.
For many years now we've seen what government schools have to offer. Some are good, some are bad and most are astonishingly mediocre.
The core problem with our government school system is that it operates much like any other government organization. In many cases, it serves itself and misses the objective of serving others.
Here in Wyoming, we have a relatively embarrassing track record with respect to public education. Our graduation rates are unimpressive, our dropout rates are relatively high, and we don't have especially high expectations of our students. And, as you might expect, many of them meet our modest expectations.
Charter schools offer an alternative to traditional government schools, although they are not disconnected entirely from the government school system. A school with an approved charter is supposed to offer opportunities for new approaches to make education more effective. The charter applicant operates the school outside of the traditional government schools, but still in a contractual relationship with the school district.
Charter schools in Wyoming are supposed to provide enhanced opportunities for students, parents, teachers and community members. The focus is on improved comprehension, increased opportunities for learning, and new learning experiences. They are encouraged to use innovative methods of teaching, and it is expected that they will also have outstanding results.
In establishing a charter for a school, a contract is made with the school district with respect to curriculum and performance. The school operates independently of the school district, yet reports to the school district to make certain that contractual obligations are being met.
Charter schools are expected to comply with all statutory requirements regarding equal opportunity and availability for enrollment. In Wyoming, charter applicants have a contract for five years, and receive funding as would any other government school.
Take a look at this Boston charter school success story. It's impressive to say the least.
The Application Process
Contents of a charter application typically include a description of the educational program that's provided, specific goals for the program and measurable performance standards for students. The application also includes the organizational structure of the school, qualifications of teachers employed at the school, and admission requirements.
Here in Laramie County, a charter school has been trying to get authorization from the school district for several years. It continues to be an uphill battle because the school district will not approve the application, and hasn't offered any reasonable explanation.
Despite considerable support and adequate planning, there has been no approval. It's clear to even the casual observer that failure to approve the charter application is based primarily on fear.
Fear of what? Well, it's fear of competition, and fear of losing control. That's the main problem that any government organization will have with another organization that wants to "play in their sandbox."
With rare exception, competition lowers prices and increases quality. How about that for an intimidating thought for government bureaucrats?
Government doesn't want competition for fear of being exposed as a high-priced and mediocre service provider.
My experience with alternatives to government schools, private and parochial schools, indicates clearly that their results are generally superior to the government school system. My mother used to work at a private school, and when their graduates transferred to a government school, they typically placed a grade or two above other children of the same age.
I have been equally impressed with the results from Catholic schools. I thought my ability with the English language was sufficiently impressive, but it's a humbling experience to play a game of Scrabble with someone who has had a Catholic school education.
It's clear the educational system of private and parochial schools has something going for it. Something that is missing or overlooked in the government schools. In the absence of a private or parochial alternative, it seems that charter applicants have a good chance of giving children the "something" that's missing from our government schools.
Let's Give Charter Applicants a Chance
Approving charter applications to create new schools will offer us an opportunity to create a variation on a theme within the school district. It provides an opportunity to focus on excellence in education outside of the political arena.
This is an opportunity that should not be dismissed by government bureaucrats if they really want to serve the public interest and support excellence in education.
I would be foolish to suggest that charter schools are the answer to all problems in American education, but I certainly believe that they deserve a chance to prove themselves. Our experience with charter applicants across the country has been much more than simply encouraging. In some cases it has been a phenomenal success for teachers, students and school districts.
One of the hidden benefits of charter schools is that they provide a competitive environment for the traditional district schools, and that encourages better performance on the part of the school district. Who says that school district personnel are the only ones that know how to educate?
So, charter schools present an opportunity for our government schools to learn and improve, and that's why it I think they should be given a fair chance to prove themselves.
Moreover, I find it disgusting that's children become pawns in a political struggle between parents that want excellence in education and a school district that often desires simply to hold onto their control of the government school system.
As a Libertarian, I think school choice is the answer. Let's give charter applicants a "fair shake" and let them show us what they can do.
Help others defend their natural human rights, even when none of yours are at risk. It's just a matter of time before government turns its focus on you. It's then you'll need others to return the favor and support the rights that you hold dear.
Nothing in human history has shown itself to promote success like freedom. Yet, liberty is under fire on a daily basis from those who desire to be your lord and master.
It takes courage to be free, and far greater courage to allow others to be free. May you have that far greater courage.