I recently watched a short piece on TV by John Stossel on charter schools. During the piece he talked about the myth of charter schools “cherry picking,” i.e. choosing only top students to attend, as being a false rap against the success of charter schools. He was gushing about the success of these types of schools which in my experience is a little unusual for him. Of course like home schooling, charter school failures rarely make the news they just disappear.
I believe Mr. Stossel may have approached this question of cherry picking in charter schools from the wrong direction. Is it possible that charter schools are successful not because of “cherry picking” but because of “cherry preservation?” I.e. do the unmotivated, ill prepared or socially inept students get forced out by contract rule, not attend to begin with, or simply leave charter schools because of their inability to attend, work, show self-discipline, lack of parental involvement or other non-conforming behaviors. What would happen in any public school if they were able to make and enforce rules that allowed students to learn and asked or forced those who did not wish to learn or even more commonly who were getting in the way of those who did, to simply leave?
The scene itself of Stossel’s school interview was wonderful with the well-groomed students wearing red ties, white shirts and matching uniforms . I find it somewhat telling that all sat completely quietly, raised their hands and were strongly focused. I must question if this is the result of the enhanced skills of the charter school teachers, the atmosphere fostered in the school or simply “cherry preservation?” Where was the autistic kid wearing a hat, the ADHD kid moving around even as they sat still or the 5th grader with a mohawk haircut a home made tatoo, several piercings, wearing the torn “Born to Party T-shirt?”
I personally believe that a good teacher is a good teacher and can probably teach anyone anything given the opportunity but I am sure the job is much easier when all of the big problems for one reason or another eventually end up attending a different school. Charter schools function in a sort of wonderland of isolation, how does that happen ? Is it more likely that their students do not reflect the general school population at large or charter schools managed to cure autism, ADHD or the effects of parental neglect through some wonderful curricular creation.
I would ask Mr. Stossel to go back to this charter school and ask for a copy of their contract with students and parents. Look at the rules students and parents agree to accept that would not be enforceable in a public school. Ask the charter school administration about their drop-out rate or perhaps more importantly their drop-in rate. I define the drop-in rate as being how many students/parents look at the rules for parental involvement, student dress code, homework load, expectations, and discipline policies for the charter school and simply go elsewhere. Public schools are not allowed to ask students to not attend or to leave except under the most extreme of circumstances this is not true in many charter schools.
The cherry picking may not be formal in charter schools but these schools shake that cherry tree pretty hard and all the cherries that are a little bit loose, overripe or damaged in some way often fall off the tree before the selection process is complete and even after they are selected the schools often discover that some damaged fruit has made it into their hallways but they are not concerned because they know that most of the damaged fruit will not live up to contract expectations or just can’t fit in and will self-select itself to leave the charter school allowing the charter school to continue making that oh so sweet charter school ” cherry 3.14. ”
©2011 Richard Safris