January 31, 2022

Megan Pauly: What to know about the charter school debate

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As the charter school debate rages in Virginia, Megan Pauly provides this useful explainer of the issues involved. In it she quotes several public school supporters, and Andrene Castro of Viginia Commonwealth University.

Castro has also studied the effects of charter schools on teacher labor markets. Her research has found that teachers who choose to teach in charter schools are more likely to be younger, unskilled and paid much less than teachers at traditional public schools.

Teaching jobs at charter schools tend to be “unstable. They’re lower pay. You might be working more hours or excessive hours for a lesser rate than you would in the primary market [for traditional public schools,]” Castro said. “And you also have challenges with maintaining things like job benefits.”

Castro says often, these younger, charter-school teachers eventually seek out employment at traditional public schools that offer more opportunities for career advancement. But since those teaching jobs require a higher skill level, they’re often stuck in the charter sector. Castro says this leads to market segmentation among teaching jobs, creating a primary labor market for traditional public school teachers and a secondary one for charter school teachers.

According to a 2019 ProPublica investigation, Teach for America was incentivized to place more teachers in charter schools than traditional public schools through funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which is run by the family who started WalMart.

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, a professor of educational leadership at VCU, says charter schools can also further segment student groups, exacerbating racial segregation.

“The charter school sector is more segregated than our already segregated traditional public school sector,” Siegel-Hawley said. “I don’t think those findings are in dispute.”

Patrick Henry’s student enrollment is 39% white, while the district overall enrolls only 21% white students. Blackwell Elementary, the zoned school for the neighborhood surrounding Patrick Henry, is only 2.5% white.

Siegel-Hawley says Patrick Henry is “a concrete example of the way charter schools can exacerbate segregation, both for the students in the school and for the surrounding regular public schools.”

Charter schools privilege families who are more knowledgeable about school lottery systems, which are different than the enrollment process into zoned, traditional public schools. Not to mention excluding families who don’t have access to a private vehicle, or who may not have time to transport their children to school. “It’s not really a school of choice if you don’t know about it,” Siegel-Hawley says, and “it’s not a choice if you can’t get to it.”

She adds that even though by law in Virginia, charter schools have to operate with a lottery system for admission, “there are still ways that the schools can choose the students rather than the other way around. For instance, Patrick Henry continues to have a parental involvement requirement, and they require 24 hours of parental involvement per year. That’s a lot. That’s a barrier.”

Read the whole explainer here. 

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