A reader offers his observations:

Charter Schools, a failure that cannot be measured.

January 12, 2013 by Joe Hernandez

As I drive happily and optimistically through our South Florida roads, I can’t fail to notice the familiar signs we are all accustomed to viewing, the burger chains, gas stations and the strip malls. As an educator and more specifically, a school psychologist, something catches my eye in a decrepit, run down strip mall, a charter school. I pull in, curious, as to what this school has to offer, as it looks like any other store I could walk in, including an adult book store a few hundred feet away and a gun shop to go with it! I ask the friendly young lady behind a window, what type of school is this? She happily explains that this is a Kindergarten through Eigth grade charter school. Curiously, I ask where are the classrooms? She answers, they are behind that door, but I’m sorry, visitors are not allowed back there. So I ask, may I see the school counselor? I have some questions about enrolling my children here. The young lady quickly snaps back and says, “I am the school counselor”. Being of a mental health background I naturally ask, what experience do you need to be a counselor here? She quickly responds, none, that is just my title. I enroll students here. I only work part-time here. At this point, this so-called counselor is beginning to become suspicious of my intentions. So she asks, would you like to see our administrator? I answer no, not now at least, I am going to read the application completely first.

I settle down into what appears to be an old sofa of a doctor’s office, in fact, the whole charter school appears to be an old office renovated for educational purposes, complete with the obnoxious sliding glass window you need to knock on to get the attention of the office aide/school counselor to turn in your application. In the far distance, I can here the familiar laugh of children and a teacher screaming at the top of her lungs “shut up”. I look around the small waiting room, and I cannot help to notice a young lady wringing her hands, with an impatient look. Next to her, is a stack of papers and a textbook. Curious, I ask her, how do you like this school? She quickly responds that she is very disappointed. Very disappointed I ask? Yes, she says, as she begins to recount how she arrived to this school. I was offered something called a McKay Scholarship where I could choose any school I wanted private or public. Acting naive, I asked, isn’t this a good thing? She answers back, well, on the surface, everything looks great. The school is small, the staff is friendly, and the students all have to wear uniforms. So what is the problem?, I ask. She quickly explains that in order for her “application” to be accepted she had to sign a waiver. A waiver I ask? Yes a waiver. You see, when my child was in public school last year, she was receiving special education services for her Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This school, like most other charter schools do not have the resources that public schools have. So you are required to sign a waiver stating that even though your child has “special needs” you agree that the school does not have to provide any accommodations. Surprised at this revelation, I asked the parent, and you agreed to this? Well, the school seemed so eager to please, I felt at ease that my child could learn here. So what are your plans, I ask the mother. I am going to ask the administrator if the staff could at least look at her previous year’s work and have some compassion. I looked back at her and asked, and when will the administrator see you? She snapped quickly, they told me in half an hour, but as you can see, you and I have been close to an hour here and there is no administrator in sight. I again ask naively, is this common? Oh, you don’t know? I said no, I am applying here. She looks at me straight in the eyes, think twice about the decision you are about to make. There is one administrator for the ten charter schools this company runs.

At this point, I had heard or you can say learned enough. I quietly exit the waiting room and venture to the back alley of the strip mall to see for myself what type of Physical Education field or playground this charter school had to offer. As I passed numerous, obnoxiously smelling dumpsters, I observed a fence, a 20 by 20 feet area approximately, that had a group of students doing some jumping jacks. There were no swings, slides, fields to run through, nada! Just concrete and space to do some kinesthetics!

By this time, my charter school curiosity had been fulfilled, I had seen enough what this “free, unregulated, market model” had to offer our children. I believe my experience with this randomly selected charter school, in a local strip mall may not be representative of all charter schools. I suspect that charter schools, located in our more affluent/wealthier neighborhoods run at a higher standard. Naturally, this defeats the notion of an “equal education for all”. Some may disagree with me and say, there is no more segregation in our education system. I beg to differ, charter schools are creating and contributing to what I call the new “socio-economic segregation” of our times. It is the cancer that is draining the resources of an education system, already stretched to its limits, and that has long been regulated to serve all of our children, hungry, poor, rich, disabled, gifted etc.

Joseph Hernandez, ED.S.
School Psychologist