(Editor's note: Senate Bill 981 of 2009 has allowed for the creation of more charter schools overall by exempting those designated as "schools of excellence" from the standing cap of 150 on the number of charter schools that can be authorized by state universities. Regardless, few charter schools, particularly those serving students in low-performing school districts, are likely to qualify. Hence, a significant restriction on the number of charter schools remains.)
When I entered kindergarten back in the early 1980s, my parents did not want to send me to the local neighborhood school. They said it lacked values education, had large class sizes and did not stress academics.
Instead, my mother and father scrimped and saved to send me to a parochial school until we moved in 1986 to a city where the schools had a better reputation. Back then, the only choice in education was public or private. It was the "haves" and "have nots." Those parents who couldn’t afford private schools or a home in a better community had no choice but to send their children to the local school, even if it was under-performing.
Fast forward to 2006. Now an educator at a premiere Michigan charter public school, I see first hand the need for competition among schools. Students attending Trillium Academy in Taylor come not just from downriver communities, but surrounding areas such as Detroit, Westland, Dearborn and Ypsilanti. Parents choose Trillium and other charter public schools for myriad reasons.
First and foremost at Trillium is our comprehensive fine arts program that begins with the kindergarteners. All of our students receive education in visual art, drama, music, Spanish, physical education and technology. Many of my new students tell me their previous schools did not have those classes.
At Trillium, we work at educating the whole child, not just the academic portion. Because of our charter contract, the fine arts will NEVER be cut from our educational program.
Intertwined in the fine arts and general education curriculum is an additional component. Our teachers focus on a Montessori philosophy of differentiated instruction to allow students to achieve at their own pace.
It may sound impossible to instruct each child in a way that best suits him or her. Yet, because charter class sizes are small, we are able to more closely monitor individual achievement. In our classrooms, a visitor may see a general education teacher working with one cluster of children, a special education teacher working with another small group, while another team of students works independently.
More often than not, you will find gifted and talented, students with special needs, and grade-level achievers all working together in one classroom. Numerous assessments have shown this approach is working.
Charter public schools must live up to stringent state regulations, legislative expectations and state school board scrutiny. Further, charters also answer to their educational service providers and the entity — usually a state university or community college — that granted their charter contract.
Giving parents a choice among schools helps to level the playing field for children of all socio-economic backgrounds.
Public education should not be a monopoly. Before the advent of charter schools, many districts were underachieving and had no motivation to improve. They received funding regardless of what was happening.
Now, with schools of choice, the money goes with the pupil. All schools are forced to live up to higher standards in order to keep their students. Higher standards come in the form of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and school report cards. For the first time in the history of American education, there are consequences for failing schools.
Trillium Academy, in its fifth year of operation, is already close to capacity and many of the grades have waiting lists. Last April, parents were weeping with joy when their names were called to fill open seats at our school. Families whose names were not selected in a random lottery left frustrated and forlorn.
Many charter schools are experiencing similar situations, and many families register at more than one charter in the hopes of getting into one.
It is unbelievable that in this day and age, many children are "left behind" in schools that are not performing. They are left behind because of the lack of a good, solid education, and they are left behind because they are not given the same opportunities as others.
In our country, every child is entitled to a free, public education. Shouldn’t everyone be entitled to a quality education as well?
The need for more charter schools is clear.
Lisa Koski, the 2005 Michigan Association of Public School Academies Teacher of the Year, teaches second and third grades at Trillium Academy in Taylor.
The public school system is broken, and with comments such
as Janna Garrison's it likely cannot be repaired. The system is
broken because of ego-centric leadership and special interest groups,
i.e., Federation of Teachers. Competition when encouraged and
supported may reverse the dismal record of public education. Stop
looking out for #1 and focus on educating students.
- Max Binkley, reader, Williamsburg, Mich.
I have been involved in charter schools since their founding here in Michigan. As a teacher and a parent I agree that we need to have choices and that our education system needs to be repaired. I feel that charter schools are doing that somewhat. Charter schools offer parents a choice even when they can’t afford private education. Charter Schools give parents a chance to have a loud voice in their child’s education. We need to stop the “left behind” children from happening and we need to make sure everyone receives the education they deserve.
- Sarah Parker Coons, teacher, Island City Academy, Eaton Rapids, Mich.
I have to admit, I was skeptical about charter schools at first, but having the opportunity to be a part of such a marvelous school has changed my mind! At Trillium Academy, learning is truly individualized. Our students are happy to be here and, as Mrs. Koski points out, the parents are also happy to have their children here. I have the pleasure of working with a staff that genuinely cares about their students overall, not just academically. It is overwhelming to see such dedicated teachers and administration. I think that charter schools are doing a fine job when it comes to meeting (and surpassing) public school standards.
- Jenni Ruble, teacher, Trillium Academy, Taylor, Mich.
Charter schools give parents an opportunity to be involved in their students’ achievement. As the leader of the Parent-Educator Organization at a leading charter school, I see first hand how parental involvement is directly influencing our student achievement. I am glad that parents have a choice in public education and I feel that parents who want to take the time to research and seek-out a better school for their children deserve that right.
- Amanda Teer, parent, Trillium Academy, Taylor, Mich.
It is my opinion that Michigan should lift the cap on Charter Public Schools. As a parent of three children who have been educated in Michigan Public schools, I warmly welcome the growing number of Charter Public Schools in our state. It has been my experience that our public schools (especially at the 6-8th grade level) have not provided what students need to be successful in high school and later in their adult lives. Charter Public Schools are filling a void by providing a more intimate learning environment that allows the student to grow in maturity and knowledge at the pace that is best for them. As a result of differentiated and yet aggressive instruction, the student cultivates a life long love for learning as well as a feeling of usefulness and belonging within their community. In conclusion, Charter Public Schools are an integral part of a successful education for our children in Michigan, and I advocate lifting the cap on the amount of how many such schools should be in our state.
- Jody DeFever, teacher, Trillium Academy, Taylor, Mich.
Lifting the cap on charter public schools is a necessary first step in opening up educational opportunities for those students who are trapped in the worst schools. It is a benefit not important for those in suburbia (who can afford to attend private academies) but rather for those in the urban areas where the education is substandard and worse - dangerous.
Ms. Garrison's remarks show what's wrong with the public education system - a lack of self reflection. Instead of addressing areas where the public schools could improve, she spends all her effort on pointing out how the charter schools 'cheat' to get results and are probably no better.
- Eric Larson, reader, Grand Rapids, Mich.
YES!! Michigan should lift the cap. Charter Schools are still public schools, but they do better for A LOT of people. They work better, too. If it is not effective for parents, they will leave and go somewhere else. I always say the general public school system is comparable to the USPS. The USPS does a decent job delivering mail. But if you want your package delivered on time, guaranteed, no extra charge for signature or insurance you use FedEx or UPS, etc.
If you do not want to pay extra (private school) you are pretty much stuck with the USPS. They do a decent job. But every now and then the mail gets lost or delivered 50 years late or something. And they do not have a problem with that. They are always saying that they are not making enough money to cover their costs…even the day after they make a stamp price increase. There is no incentive for them to change. People are pretty much stuck with them. The same is the case with the public school. Most people have no choice but to send their kids to public schools. And the schools know that and do not need to do anything to accommodate parents or improve their job. They just feel they MUST make HUGE schools and super huge football fields, etc. at the expense of educating ALL the children.
- Scott Alan Blanchard, educator, Biscotti Educational Center, Macomb, Mich.