I had an interesting discussion the other night with some East Atlanta parents.
We started talking about redistricting in the Atlanta Public Schools, then the topic turned to the ways that charter schools impact traditional public schools.
In East Atlanta Patch, we’re fortunate to have a number of good traditional public schools with fiercely dedicated and involved parents: Burgess-Peterson Academy in East Atlanta, Mary Lin Elementary in Candler Park and Parkside Elementary in Grant Park.
But we also have schools that aren’t doing so well.
Due to poor academic performance, some of the schools suffer from under-enrollment and risk being closed as a result of the redistricting process.
Uncertainty surrounding APS schools, as well as questions about the district's final redistricting recommendations, have raised concens within East Atlanta and other neighborhoods. Will all this tumult lead to more charter schools?
Charter schools are public schools but they are not subject to all the rules and regulations of the district. While the district has oversight and charters have performance targets they must meet, these schools have their own boards that govern their operations.
Our Patch has a fair number of charters already:
- Ivy Preparatory Academy for Girls and Ivy Prep for Boys in Parkview
- Tech High in Reynoldstown
- Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School in Ormewood Park and Grant Park
- Wesley International Academy in Custer/McDonough/Guice
- Drew Charter School in East Lake
The redistricting has sparked quite a few “what-if” discussions among parents in all Patch neighborhoods. One idea even involves converting Grant Park’s King Middle School into a charter school.
At the state capitol, Republicans are pushing legislation to grant the Georgia Charter Schools Commission the authority to create charter schools. Currently, that power rests with locally elected school districts, and the Georgia Supreme Court has upheld that move.
Democrats oppose the measure, noting that it lacks set funding levels. Also, in a state where 90 percent of students attend public schools, this move represents a slow creep toward universal educational vouchers.
“We are very much under threat of universal vouchers in this state,” state Sen. Nan Orrock, a Democrat, said Wednesday night at a meeting of the Inman Park Neighborhood Association.
Voucher supporters are “really, really anti-public schools," she said. "This is the same crowd that’s cut over a $1 billion out of K-12” in the last eight years.
Charters aren't exactly education's magic bullet.
The Georgia Department of Education released a report this week which showed that in 2010-11 school year, just 70 percent of the 162 charter schools operating in the state met the annual yearly progress standards.
Those standards, or AYP, are mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act that Congress enacted in 2001.
In comparison, 73 percent of traditional public schools met AYP.
I don’t have kids. Until the redistricting issue, I hadn’t considered Georgia education from a parent's perspective.
But I do wonder, what’s wrong with offering parents more choices with respect to their kids’ education?
Most of my career as a journalist has been covering business and one truism in that world is that competition forces all players to innovate and improve to keep customers.
Just look at some of the world’s most admired companies like Apple, Toyota and Google.
Companies that don't innovate and improve risk failure. Just look at Kodak — which is seeking bankruptcy protection — Office Max and Hewlett-Packard.
In schooling, we've had parochial and non-religious private schools as an alternative for decades. But parents who send their kids to private institutions still have to pay for their local schools through property taxes. In effect, they're paying twice.
At least with charter schools, which are funded through the same local property tax dollars, APS gets a referendum of sorts from parents who want a public school education but feel the district or their local school isn't operating at a level they trust or find acceptable.
I know children aren't commodities — although K-12 education is a multi-billion dollar business in America.
Are there lessons to be applied from business in education?
I'm curious to hear your take.