Charter schools fiercely defend their promised autonomies, sometimes too fiercely. I get it, the never ending unfunded mandates alongside “we are the government and we are here to help” regulation makes you defensive. Not to mention the poison pills and outright hostile measures designed to hurt charters under the guise of serving children.
All that said, sometimes, we gotta put our guard down and better embrace our role as the other public schools. Sex education and the push for charters to meet the same standards as other public schools, AB 2601, is a good example.
The Public Roles for Public Schools
Sex education is a tough but critical subject for schools. I have written before about the tears, revelations of sexual abuse, and hard community building work we have gone through at my schools. As cringeworthy as talking to teenagers about sex and their bodies is, if you have worked in schools, you know that for some children school is the only place they will get that talk.
A talk that can be critical. There are children who honestly don’t know that they are being “abused.” They may know it inside, but they are told that it’s normal, or that it’s a secret, or some other rhetorical salve covers the wound. And without the words to even understand their predicament, they too often go silent.
Abuse is an epidemic. 1 in 10 female students and 1 in 28 male students report being forced to have sex. Think about that, if you are a teacher, the students in your class—do the numbers. And STD rates are increasing in California’s students. As public schools, we owe it to our students to have these conversations.
A Truce is Needed in the Public School Wars
Again, I do understand why charters reflexively resist each new mandate. There has been a six fold increase in the sheer volume of the California education code since 1978, and I don’t see it slimming down. Many bills that are on the surface an attempt to help, really aren’t. It took far too long to get moving on requiring charters to provide free lunch. However, if districts wont give charters access to buildings with kitchens or allow them to buy district meals, then it can be practically impossible to provide the meals, in the way district schools do. So many of those efforts to require free lunch service were not about getting kids food, it was about shutting down charters, who didn’t have the money for full kitchens.
We have had a similar stalling of ethics and transparency in the legislature, with a clear compromise available but the same tired bill keeps getting submitted and keeps failing. Rather than making one clarification and assuring greater transparency, the partisans would rather try to make a political point, and kids, families and the public loses through inaction.
We need to get beyond the public school wars on some of these issues that should be easy wins for students. As public schools, sometimes its not enough for charters to say, “the law doesn’t require that” when there are things we should do for transparency, ethics, or just serving students and families. And on the other side, we just need more honesty and integrity about what is best for children and a commitment to work for that, beyond trotting students out as props and abandoning them once their political purpose is served.
Families deserve better, starting with a less defensive charter sector. To get there will require us to take a more proactive look at what charters “should” be doing rather than what they are required to do. It will also take a calling off of the political dogs, who seem not to care a whit for underserved children and families, once the blood of a charter is or could be exposed.
We deserve better from both sides.