By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org
A charter school advocate argues the Philadelphia public school system can get rid of charter schools entirely if officials listen to the reasons parents pull their children out of schools.
About 30,000 Philadelphia students are on waiting lists to attend public charter schools, in addition to the 50,000 already attending, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.
Bob Fayfich, executive director of that group, said Philadelphia administrators need to make improvements to address parents’ concerns about poor academics and safety.
“Parents recognized it being a problem before most of the media did, and parents have for years been moving to the charter schools,” Fayfich said.
At least half of Philadelphia city councilmen attended a school other than a traditional public school during high school, and several of them send their own children to private schools or non-traditional public schools, according to a Media Tracker report.
“The fact that many Philadelphia government officials are sending their kids to private schools says that they recognize that Philadelphia public schools are in bad shape. Like any other parent, they want the best for their kid, so, given the opportunity, they’ll put them in the best available school,” said Priya Abraham, senior policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives.
School choice levels the playing field, Abraham said.
“It essentially gives and restores the opportunity that should be available to every single family and child to get the best possible education available. That’s what the public school system was designed to do, and because it’s doing so poorly in Philadelphia, school choice is the way out for many families,” she said.
This year’s “crisis” is actually years of financial mismanagement coming to a head, Fayfich said.
Charter schools have been blamed for contributing to the crisis, but Fayfich noted that charter schools are public schools, and the district isn’t losing any money by supporting them.
“It’s not a matter of draining money from public schools. It’s a matter of moving the money to where the parents think they can get better quality education for their children,” he said. “It’s the parents making the decision that the traditional school that their children are in — in most cases the reason has to do with safety issues — the parents don’t believe the environment in the school is safe or conducive to their student learning.”
Because charter schools have more flexibility than traditional public schools, they can provide a safer, more academically accomplished environment, he said. Charter schools can mandate uniform use, enforce more discipline in classrooms and require parents to be more involved in the school than they would be at a traditional public school.
In providing an alternative education for students whose families can’t afford private school tuition, charter schools are helping students learn.
“The issue has been a historically poor financial stewardship of the district to get in the situation they’re in now, and some socioeconomic issues that complicate this, but blaming charter schools is a red herring,” Fayfich said.
“Charter schools are a symptom of the parents saying, ‘The traditional school is not serving the needs of my child, and I can’t wait. I can’t wait 10 or 15 years for my district to change.’”
Contact Mary C. Tillotson at email@example.com.
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