After working in several charter schools I have been left feeling ambivalent about their role because of some of the current practices. Because many Charter schools serve under-served communities that do not use language in the way that is need for success at the high school or college level they often have a very structured language approach embedded in their curriculum that is quite appropriate for students with language-based disabilities. On first appearance the seeming order of the schools, quiet halls and classrooms and teachers working all hours for their students is appealing. However, mindless rules on minutae not only does not help students learn critical thinking or problem solving skills, but can erode self esteem. Not providing enough specialized instruction to students with special needs result in failure which then ironically enough raises the schools overall GPA and test scores. The reality is often that many students with special learning needs do not succeed in the charter school environment. So at this point I am quite skeptical.
However, when reading the article “Keys to Radical Classroom Change” by Amanda Gardner I was impressed by her concrete suggestions for what makes a turnaround school. Here are the main points: one dynamic leader is not a model that can create many turnaround schools. Turnaround school need to create the classroom as a sacred place, use testing as only one indicator of accountability, and support collaboration among teachers, no more fiefdoms! Great key points, but how these are implemented also makes all the difference. Also I don’t think the classroom has to be a sacred space. It’s not the space it’s build a sacred learning community, but I do think that these are key factors in creating a school that works for all students.