Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Indulge me just this once...

Ok, so I don't talk politics too often because I'm weird about them. I have the world's biggest, softest, most liberal heart but I was raised by two of the best examples of the religious right (and I mean that in the best possible way). My parents are deeply, deeply religious in a way that I don't share but have tremendous respect for (and am at times even jealous of).

Anyway, right now our legislators are in and in addition to sponsoring incredibly important bills like the one to ban gay marriage (which was luckily shot down yesterday), they actually have one moving forward that I am really excited about. While it still may not make it, the legislation creating charter schools is still kicking!

Let me give you just a little background here. My mom is a teacher (a pretty brilliant one actually) and, while she started in public schools much like the one she graduated from, she has taught for about 27 years in the same private, Christian school. I have an undergrad degree in education (English Ed) and wanted to teach middle school (yes people exist who actually like those heatherns). After I graduated and found there were no jobs unless I subbed, I found a part time job with Extension in Lincoln County, WV and subbed some on the side. Well I fell in love with Extension work and when a full time position in Kanawha County with WVSU opened up, I was all over it. I then worked for 3 years as a 4-H Agent and worked with many of the middle schools in the area. Once I had that kind of freedom, I found it too restrictive to even consider going back to the classroom.

As I mentioned before, I am not a religious person. However, my kids go to a Christian school. As the open minded, free spirit type that most people know me to be, this seems to be a contradiction. But it really isn't.

Like I've mentioned before, my daughter is both gifted and challenged. She has gone to private school since pre-school with the exception of part of one year. That year was the worst in her life. She was going through things and we didn't know how to help her. We tried everything we could. We sent her to a school that was supposed to help her behavior and social skills only to find out, after racking up a $7,000 bill, that they had one certified teacher in the entire place. We then tried public school where, after she had been there for almost a semester, I had to hand deliver her test scores from her old school in order to prove that she had always been not only a normal student but a gifted one. The next year she went back to her private school but had to repeat the year.

I say all of this because, in WV, you have two choices. You either accept the public school where you live (unless you can beg the board to allow your child to attend another school) or, if you have the means and the awareness, you can send them to a religious school. That leaves many parents like myself in a lurch. I have no problem with religion or my kids being taught religion, but I wish I could expose them to more than one. And I will admit to wishing that it wasn't a part of their classwork. But at the same time I must say that I'm glad they get the morality lessons that come with religion because there have been times when I wasn't strong enough to teach them myself.

But, to get back to the point, charter schools would allow parents another option. Instead of paying tuition to a private school, they could choose to send their kids to a charter school. Say you have a student (maybe one just like mine) who is gifted and deeply interested in the Arts. Maybe you could send her to a charter school that offers a small group setting and extra time for music and drama classes (like this one or some of these). Can you imagine the benefits for both student and parent? A school designed for your student filled with other kids like her. Meanwhile, my son (a child that I truly believe could function and flourish anywhere) could choose a public school (since one of his biggest interests is sports) or maybe one that caters to business (which I could see him getting into as he ages). No matter what, the opportunities would be amazing.

Now there is plenty of opposition. Some say charter schools take money from an already struggling school system. In ways, that could be true. However, there are also huge pots of money out there right now just for charter schools and, since we have none, we can't access that money. Teachers unions oppose the bill in mass. I must say that I am generally a fan of unions, but I also feel that the teachers unions have begun to place the needs of the teachers over the needs of the students. And maybe that's what they should be doing. You will never hear me oppose a teacher raise, but I am not a fan of their seniority system. However, I'm also not a fan of merit-based raises that use standardized test results as a measurement of teacher skill. So, to try to simplify, I don't know the right answer, but I know it hasn't been found in our area.

But I will say this. If charter schools do ever make it to my neck of the city, I'd love to be involved. It would probably even be enough (if it was one I really believed in) to get me to renew my teaching certificate, say goodbye to my cushy Capitol office, and return to the classroom.


Steven said...

I have a feeling it will die in the House.

Realliveman said...

Public school are the worst. I took my daughter out of public schools 5 years ago and put her in the only option outside of charter schools. She was home schooled.

Homeschool is a valid option.

Robert Sealey said...

George Washington, while not recognized as a charter school really fits this model. And there are students from out of district that go there because they claim residence in district. (At least when I went there, that happened.) I was fortunate enough to live in the district *most* of the time and go to GW. It made a difference in my life and education.

Paige said...

Steven: You're probably right but I'm hopeful. It's a nasty habit of mine. LOL

Realliveman: I actually tried to homeschool at one point (and at the time I was still certified) but I don't have the discipline to keep a real schedule and my daughter especially really needs that.

Rob: GW isn't a charter school because it is still under the same rules and regulations as all of the other schools are. Each charter school is autonomous. They are held responsible for their results but have far more flexibility as to how they achieve them. I went to GW from outside the county by asking permission from the school board since I actually lived in Lincoln Co. But that is risky because they could decide at any time to not let me in the next year.

All Click said...

I'm not so sure about being homeschooled. For me, learning from my peers and interacting at break and lunch time was just as valuable as the education I received.

I worked with a young woman who was homeschooled and now at college struggled with making friends and disconnecting from her family. She was very bright, good at sports and doing fine with her classes just couldn't connect with her classmates.

But on the other hand I know some parents now who homeschool and I know do a wonderful job and it is totally the right decision.

Paige said...

The thing these days is that, while they may be homeschooled, most parents try to build in lots of social interaction to counteract the lack of classmates. Is it the same? I don't know.

A lot of it depends on the reason for homeschooling too. I've know the uber-religious type who homeschool so that they can control the types of people and ideas that are presented to their children. Not a big fan of that. But I've also known very smart, open-minded parents who just want something different for their kids.

But I was really bad at homeschooling. I just don't have the discipline. I think it's safe to say that, barring some awful change in circumstances, I'll never be doing it again!