John Stifler: Is wider gap an unintended consequence for charters?
NORTHAMPTON — The current debate about charter schools in the Gazette is an earnest argument between throughtful supporters of these schools and concerned critics who argue that charter schools cut into the resources of conventional public schools. What neither side has mentioned, at least not so far, is an aspect of charter schools that ought to cause concern to anyone who hopes that American public education will raise the social and economic qualities of life for the general population.
No matter how else you describe them, charter schools tend to maintain, even widen, the gap between the affluent and educated, on one side, and the poor and disenfranchised on the other.
Here’s why: Charter schools are open to any child — any child, that is, whose parents are aware enough of what a charter school is in the first place, and of what wonderful opportunities it provides. Want your kid to learn Chinese? Sing, dance and act in near-professional theatrical performances? Want to be part of a dedicated community of children and parents who understand how to invest their time and energy in helping make the school good?
Great. If you’re a parent, you just need to be aware of when and how to apply to get your child into this school. You need to sign up for the lottery. You’ll need to do some extra paperwork — but you know how to do that. You’re literate, probably well employed or anyway well educated. You know what questions to ask.
Oh, and you have to be able to get your child to school. Charter schools are officially public schools, but most of them in Hampshire County do not offer bus service. If you’re a single parent who has to show up for the early morning shift at a convenience store and work until after school lets out, or if you’re disabled and can’t afford a driver, you’d better just be glad the regular local public school has bus service and accept the fact that charter schools are for someone else.
If you’re a two-income family, perhaps with the relatively flexible schedule afforded by many professions, you can pile the kids into the Prius and enjoy the ride.
John Stifler lives in Florence.