Saturday, November 27, 2004

Teacher's Note To Parents: If Not Charter Schools, Then What?

Boi From Troy asks some very good questions regarding the revelation that charter schools are not performing as well as had been promised. In fact, many charter schools are performing worse than public schools in some cases. An original Hero of the 'Wonks, Boi has asked our opinion regarding the matter, and we are happy to oblige.

The disillusionment with the charter school movement has left many parents scratching their heads and thinking, "What can be done for my child?" For those parents that are dis-satisfied with their local public schools and can't, (or won't) send their children to private schools, there are basically only two choices, neither of which are easy.

The Case For Vouchers

Many parents would prefer a system of government vouchers that could be used by parents to offset the cost of tuition at the private or public school of their choice. Vouchers appear to be a very attractive alternative to poorly performing public schools, and are favored by many parents as a viable solution to the challenge of getting their children an excellent education.

However, there are many challenges confronting those that favor a voucher system. The history of the voucher movement in California is typical of what has occurred in most states.

Due to the political realities found in California's perpetually Democratic-controlled State Assembly, it is highly unlikely that a voucher system would become law through the usual legislative method. Therefore, the only option available to those seeking vouchers would be through the initiative/referendum process.

The last time that the voters went to the polls and voted on a voucher proposal, (Proposition 38, November 2000) it was rejected by an overwhelming margin. Arguably, the measure was defeated by the millions of dollars spent on television advertisements by the California Teachers Association.

The CTA is not an open, democratic organization. It is a "legalized syndicate" that is controlled by a self-appointed cabal that is extremely liberal in its outlook.

CTA officers are not elected by teachers, and due to "closed shop" laws, all teachers are forced to pay dues to the organization. This guarantees a huge amount of cash that can (and will) be spent opposing any voucher proposal. Reform of the syndicate (union) is highly unlikely, due to the fact that the rank-and-file have no say in the positions adopted by the union. Therefore, CTA will continue to oppose any voucher proposal in the foreseeable future.

The initiative method requires huge amounts of money, organization, and time to even be placed on the ballot. All of which parents do not have an unlimited supply of. Even if such a measure were again put to a vote, due to the political and financial clout wielded by CTA, it is very unlikely that the measure will fare any better than in 2000.

The above scenario has been played out in most states that have held a vote on school vouchers. Even in the best case scenario, it will be many years before a voucher system can be in place here in California. And in our opinion, Washington's talk of vouchers is simply so much election-year rhetoric. However, with Republican control of both the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government, there is a real possibility of some type of voucher being adopted sometime within the next few years.

Today's parents need a solution that may be of help with their children.

The Case For Using Certain Provisions Of Federal Law:

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how some well-to-do parents are using a little-known provision of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that enables them to transfer gifted and talented children out of failing schools and into schools that would better serve their child's needs. An article from The Washington Post served as a reference.

But to use the law, a child need not be enrolled in any gifted, talented, or special education class. What will win the day will be your persistence. Since the law is federal, it is applicable in all 50 states.

Almost any community will have at least one outstanding public school. Your objective as a parent is to get your child into the best school that is available.

Under NCLB, a large number of schools have been labeled as underperforming. And according to the law, any parent has a right to transfer his or her child from such a school into the public school of their choice if room is available. The first step is to contact your local school's principal and find out if it has been classified as "underperforming." If it is, then apply to transfer your child. It is also imperative that you research your school district's policies regarding time lines for the application which must be followed to the letter.

It is of foremost importance that you do not give school administrators any legal excuse to bar your child from the school that you wish to enroll him or her (or them) in.

Parents have found that school administrators will invariably say that such a transfer is not possible, due to a variety of reasons including, "We don't have any room." Yet if parents are persistent and threaten to go up the "chain of command" they will almost always be told, "A space has just opened up." To most school administrators, a quiet school is a happy school. A loud and persistent parent is a threat to his or her job and must be accommodated.

Do not hesitate to make a credible threat to complain to the school board. That is every administrator's nightmare, and is a parent's "ace in the hole."

As a parent and classroom teacher with many years of service, I have learned that when parents act in a calm yet persistent fashion, they can and will often be able to obtain an excellent public school education for their children. The key is not to accept "no" for an answer.

Mortarboard Tip: Boi From Troy
Update: Joanne Jacobs has some interesting thoughts about Charter Schools.