Last week, parents in New York City awaited the results of a school lottery. They all hoped their child would be granted a coveted spot in a Brooklyn charter school.
The school, run by the non-profit Achievement First, promises a quality education, special attention by teachers, and an emphasis on closing the achievement gap — referring to students in ethnic minorities and those living in poverty, scoring lower on educational tests than students in middle class or from wealthy backgrounds.
Achievement First boasts a number of highlights in the educational performance of their students, as well as longer school days, character education, and intense literacy environment.
No wonder parents are on board.
Charter schools and private schools are becoming a popular choice for many parents. As an educator, I don’t think they can do anything public schools can’t. There are elements working against public schools: bureaucracy, teacher unions, and crowded classrooms, to name a few. But discipline is still a top concern in today’s schools.
Many charter schools today require parents and families to sign conduct agreements, stating their understanding of the school’s behavior rules and consequences. It stands to reason that if children in the classroom aren’t causing constant disruptions for their teachers and peers, more effective learning is taking place.
As much as I believe in education for all students, discipline problems are still a big problem for teachers and administrators, and it’s too bad that public schools can’t — or don’t — hold the same standard in a society that has become ridiculously litigious. In some districts, it’s difficult to enact consequences for behavior infractions without a parent rushing in and complaining to the principal.
It isn’t just schools that allow children to fall through the cracks, it's parents too.
It appears those children in the New York City lottery already have families who are working to help them be successful learners. But children whose parents don’t have the same resources, abilities, or willingness, are just as deserving of high expectations for both education and behavior — in themselves and their classmates.
In his 2007 column, Do Charter Schools Improve Behavior, Washington Times writer Jay Mathews laid out the behavior question. He quotes economist Scott A. Imberman, who researched a large school district that had increasing charter school attendance over a period of several years. In his research, Imberman showed that the improvements in behavior found in charter schools “can be explained by smaller school-size and higher teacher-student ratios.”
Mathews points out the efficacy of such smaller, often more structured, schools:
"Charters seem to be evolving into a system of free public schools that mimic private schools, but are for families that cannot afford private school. Parents can be fairly sure that the charters will be smaller, and thus more likely to have congenial student-faculty relations. That is fine for those parents, but how hard would it be to create these charter-like conditions in all public schools?"
I think it would be grand if teachers and administrators could appropriately enforce structure and discipline in all schools today. If smaller schools run by private companies and non-profit organizations can do it, so can public education.