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Carol Burris: Why Charter Schools Are Unnecessary

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Carol Burris is the executive director of the Network for Public Education. She is a lifelong educator, first a teacher of Spanish, then an award-winning principal of a high school in New York.

She writes here to explain briefly why charter schools are unnecessary and are not public schools.

“When I was a high school principal, I also ran an alternative school called The Greenhouse. It was small–its average enrollment was 17 students. The students were older–juniors or seniors–who were credit-deficient or who, for personal reasons, needed an alternative setting.

“Greenhouse saved lives and reduced our dropout rate to less than 1%. It was run (and is still run) by a wonderful teacher, Frank Van Zant. I gave Frank ample resources with teachers from South Side going to the school to provide content instruction for one or two periods a day. I trusted him and gave him freedom. It has (and still has) a full-time social worker. Hours for students were more flexible. Instruction was small group. I called the Greenhouse a delicate ecology. I was careful to place in the program only those students who really needed it.

“Our students on suspension also benefitted. They would receive instruction there at the end of the day so that they were well educated and counseled when out of school and could more easily transition back.

“All of that innovation and I did not need “a charter” to do it. The ultimate authority was the School Board. The kids who graduated received a South Side diploma. In fact, by the time I left, 100% graduated with a NYS Regents diploma.

“I am weary of hearing that charter schools are public schools. That is a lie.  Public schools are governed by the public, not by a private corporation.

“Charter advocates will say Wisconsin has “public charters” because they are authorized by the school district. However, all of those district authorized schools, thanks to Scott Walker,  are now run by for-profit or nonprofit corporations. Publicly-governed charter schools without a private board are not allowed.  I do not believe there is even one public charter school–that is a charter school run by an elected school board–in the United States. Is there one left?”

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