Why Do People Oppose Charter Schools? By Jane Watt
Over six years ago, I began volunteering for a charter school initiative which ultimately led to my founding a charter high school and serving as the Chairman of the Board for the school on Marco Island, Florida. When I talk to people about my experience, they are always surprised when I share the extreme resistance I faced during the start-up process. In fact, many people can’t believe that anyone would be opposed to a mother who was volunteering time to start a school for kids. I have learned many lessons over the past six years and one of them is that human nature resists change, even if the change is good.
One of my first steps was to meet with school board members, city council members, teachers, principals, and parents. I wanted to understand what parents wanted for their kids. My goal was to develop a plan that would meet the students needs and offer a valuable educational option to the district as well. I naively thought everyone would support my idea for a charter school in our community.
Instead I experience overwhelming resistance from what seemed like every direction. First of all, some residents had older children who were attending a local district school were offended that I didn’t want the same for my children. I couldn’t understand why parents were sending their students to a “D” rated high school with 30% passing rates on the standardized testing in Science. Why weren’t they concerned about the results? I wasn’t willing to accept the status quo, because I thought we could do better. I wanted more for my children and their friends.
Another reason for pushback was the fact that charter schools are non-
union. Our teachers come to school early, stay late as necessary, are accessible to students via Edmodo or email to students in the evening. The teachers at our school are completely committed to each student’s success and they are willing to do whatever it takes to help them, regardless of whether it is in their contract. Charter schools also offer a 1 year contract to teachers and administrators. Basically, the faculty must perform in order to maintain their job. Every year the staff member is reviewed to make sure they are meeting and exceeding the expectations. High quality teachers have no reason to be concerned because their job is secure. However, people who are not performing will not last at a charter school.
Some of the local residents who are retired adults did not want children on the island. The ironic part is that the families already live here. In fact, for years, students have been getting on a bus at 6 am to travel to Naples to go to high school. At one of the city council meetings when I gave a presentation about the school, a local resident spoke out against me saying that I was “ruining the retirement community. “
Most surprising to me was the lack of support I received from the school district. The superintendent viewed me as competition and was determined to block me from starting a school. At the time there were only a couple charter schools in the district. District officials did not want any more. In fact, the superintendent told me he would personally see to it that there was never a high school on Marco Island. Ultimately he did not last in the district for reasons that had nothing to do with our school, and our school has become one of the most successful schools in the district.
The biggest reason the district was opposed to our school came down to basic dollars. In Florida, money follows the student. If a student attends our charter school, we receive funding for that child. The concern in the district was that there would be less money for the existing schools if our school opened.
However, I think the more important concern should be how well we are educating our students with the money we are given. If an existing school is not doing an adequate job, there should be other options for the families.
Since our school has opened, the other district high schools in our area have improved too. I am incredibly excited that one of the outcomes of the start-up in our school has been the success in other local high schools. Ultimately, the students are the beneficiaries. When they succeed, everyone wins.
I will never understand why people would be blatantly opposed to a school in the community. It seems so ridiculous that anyone would fight someone who is trying to improve educational opportunities for kids. I became involved in education because I am a mother who has 3 children and cares about their future. As I became more deeply committed to the mission, my concern reached beyond my own family to the other children in our community as well.
In my opinion, competition is good as it forces everyone to perform better in order to survive. The U.S. is based on a thriving economy that is driven by competition. Our education system should not be limited and without options. Charter Schools can provide a valuable option for parents and students.
I would encourage all parents to get involved and take an active role in their child’s education. Your support can have a tremendous impact on your child’s future.