Public, charter school collaboration in the future?

Feb. 25, 2014 @ 10:43 PM

Duke University economics professor Helen Ladd believes that charter schools have a place on the outskirts – not at the center - of public education.

“Charter schools make sense, but primarily as part of a larger educational system,” Ladd said. “As long as they are on the fringes of the education system.”

Ladd spoke Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Orange-Durham-Chatham about the growth of charter schools and their impact on the traditional public-school system.

According to Ladd, charter schools initially were intended to be “laboratories of experimentation and innovation and to give disadvantaged students more options,” but since have become fertile ground for entrepreneurs out to make a quick buck.

“The notion of competition that a lot of people push does not translate well into the education sector,” she said. “As parents are looking at schools for their children, not only are they looking at the programs within the schools, but many of them care about the mix of students in the school.

“Competition just isn’t the solution to the challenges a lot of us want to address. Some are in the business of setting up charter schools to earn money and that is happening.”

Ladd suggested limiting charter schools because of questions around quality assurance and the obstacles they create for local school districts when planning programs, facilities and budgets.

Durham Public Schools Board of Education member Nancy Cox said that charter schools require constant flexibility of public schools while using taxpayer money to do it.

“If the school board said that in 2014-15 we were going to open six new schools, taxpayers would have our heads,” Cox said. “We’d be voted off. The commissioners would be irate.

“There are six charter applications for Durham. Six new schools are going to potentially open that aren’t needed.”

Several audience members wondered whether local school boards, public and charter, could work together to best meet the needs of students.

Rep. Graig Meyer said that he has “begun to talk with colleagues to foster more collaboration between charter schools and the public schools.”

“I’ve seen amazing charter schools that complement what the local school system is doing,” said Meyer. “But in order for them to work together, there have to be mechanisms for them to work together. They have to have room and the current statutes don’t encourage that.”

Ladd said that there have been questions about whether students in charter schools achieve more than they would in a traditional school and the inefficiencies and overlapping services they provide when compared to public schools.

The racial component is important to talk about in North Carolina, Ladd said, considering the state’s history of educating black and other minority children.

While current charter schools aren’t racially divided by law like traditional public schools were historically, “there’s a flavor of that” with the racial makeup of charter schools, Ladd said.

“Most charter schools do not reflect the racial mix in the communities and I’m not exactly sure what we do about it,” she said.