With the recent Chicago Public Schools teachers strike, the issue of charter schools has become even more popular, particularly within the Latino community.
During the 7-day strike, a lot of parents were left scrambling to find alternatives for their children. According to the Brookings Institute, children from lower-income families have limited options when schools shut down. Juan Rangel, CEO of the United Neighborhood Association told Reuters, the UNO Charter School Network took in 30 new students during the strike.
The numbers show Latinos are increasingly enrolling in charter schools, going from 20 percent of the charter school population in the 1999-2000 year to 26 percent in 2009-2010, according to George Washington University’s Face the Facts initiative
Educators like Omar Yanar, a charter school administrator and CEO and co-founder of a prospective charter school, thinks there is a lot of misinformation about charter schools cherry-picking students.
“A lot of those myths need to be dispelled,” he says. “Charter schools go to great extents to make sure we don’t expel students.”
He also emphasizes that some charter schools have even higher rates of special education students than some traditional schools.
Rather than failing underprivileged populations, he feels that charter schools are helping end the cycle of poverty.
“It’s a civil rights issue,” he says.
Yanar thinks charter schools are a great option for many Latinos parents because so many traditional schools are failing to provide the choice to go to college. She believes with a high-performing charter school, kids get a chance at a quality education that will get them to college.
Marlene Orozco, a fourth grade teacher at Rocketship Academy, says her school provides families with an excellent alternative. Her school is located in San Jose, California, which is a predominately Mexican community. Part of what she loves about her job is the high level of parental involvement and community engagement. She says parents become leaders and advocates at Rocketship Academy.
She also points out that her school is not highly regimented and that they accept all students.
“We’re given a lot of what they call ‘reject” students,’ she says. “In the year and a half that I’ve worked there, we have not kicked anybody out.”
Orozco feels she’s part of a group of highly committed teachers that provide the community with an education that is equally competitive as affluent communities.
Educators like Orozco and Yanar feel that charter schools are enhancing the public school system by encouraging innovation and offering a choice that didn’t exist before.
Some educators, however, think that charter schools don’t cater to kids with the highest needs for the sake of their school performance.
Cary Weisgram, a teacher who worked in a Chicago public magnet school for 6 years says, “the problem is that instead of looking at marginalized populations, what they want is regular kids.”
Lillian Ortiz-Self, chair of commission of Hispanic affairs for the state of Washington, has similar criticism. She believes that many charter schools are not capable of working with migrant families, English Language Learners, and students in special education.
She also points out that many schools are literally inaccessible to many students because they don’t provide transportation. “We’ve got parents that are very hardworking that don’t have access to the system,” she says.
Some critics say that many charter schools are too strict in order to weed out problem students. In Chicago this past February, for instance, hundreds of parents protested against the Noble Street Charter Network’s use of fines to discipline students. Many parents felt this financially punished parents and didn’t stop bad behavior.
According to a 2010 investigation by Catalyst Chicago and WBEZ-Chicago, a higher percentage of students transfer out and are expelled from charter schools than from traditional schools. They found that one in 10 transfer out.
Many feel that these schools hurt the system and that traditional schools deserve the same attention and dedication.
“We should be fighting for all children,” says Ortiz-Self.
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to Madrid, Spain, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. She is currently a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and a contributor for The Huffington Post, AlterNet, and Mamiverse. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Witness, Anti-, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Copper Nickel, and others. Her nonfiction has appeared in Jezebel, Ms. Magazine, and American Public Media. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or erikalsanchez.com.