“Charter schools are the devil,” I blurted out as I listened long enough to two friends talk about the new push for a Three Sector policy approach to educational change in the United States. After they got over their astonishment at my statement realizing it was another one of my strong opinions, they asked for explanation. At this point I was forced to develop a more complex and nuanced explanation for my strong belief that charter schools now known as the third sector is a false choice and an imminent threat to the health and sustainability of Christian schools
Three Sector Policy Approach
In short, the Three Sector Approach to educational policy change is a belief that the traditional private and public sectors in American schooling are not enough and that the creation of a mixed-market approach with the addition of the third sector of charter schools will add another dimension to the traditional American education system. The progressive proponents who have signed Andy Smarick’s petition truly desire to expand educational quality and provide better choices to parents and students by using a mixed-market approach by creating private schools that are funded by traditional public school tax sources. The third sector is a mixing of the public and private school models with the hope that the school’s “charter” will create the necessary direction and accountability to ensure the school’s success.
As an education policy fanatic and former AFT Grievance Chairman, I have been watching the development of charter schools since 1999, and as a researcher of Albert Shanker (father of the charter school movement and legendary AFT President) I was an early proponent of charter schools as a real option to provide increased parental choice in education. However, I never believed nor do I think Shanker would have expected that charter schools would become a third sector of the educational system as neither public nor private.
Shanker’s intent was to create greater professional control over education and flexibility in meeting student needs, not in creating a separate school sector that was neither accountable to the public or the teaching professionals. Additionally, as a Christian school convert and full-fledged advocate, I have come to the realization in my research and work across the country that this so called Three Sector approach is the greatest threat to the sustainability and possible expansion of Christian schools.
Charter School Allure
Many in the school choice movement are attracted to charter schools because they see them as increasing the choice of parents and students, especially the most underprivileged students in American cities. Likewise, some of the best charter school networks like KIPP have done great work in proving the impact of high standards and great teachers upon the learning of these same students. Also, as an educational professional, I cannot deny that I personally have learned from and Christian schools in general could learn a great deal from the best charter school networks in setting high standards, proving success through tangible learning results, and the development of character within a vibrant community. And don’t forget the allure of public money that allows charter schools to grow and seek easier funding in comparison to starting or maintaining a Christian school for students who are not able to afford private school tuition.
The conversation on Charter Schools continues in “Charter Schools: The False Choice (Part II)”
Erik Ellefsen has served in education for 21 years as a teacher, coach, consultant, Grievance Chairman for the American Federation of Teachers, Dean of Academics at Boston Trinity Academy, and as Principal at Chicago Christian High School. He currently serves as an Academic and College Counselor at Valley Christian High School (San Jose, CA), a Senior Fellow for CACE, a Senior Fellow for Cardus, podcaster for Digical Education, and as Vice President of CCEI. Erik regularly organizes Christian school leadership seminars and speaks on issues pertaining to academic program, student leadership, and organizational development. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.