PUBLIC SCHOOLS enjoy unique status in American society. Perhaps no other institution is so widely recognized as needing drastic reform, yet so fiercely resists the slightest change.
Chalk it up to bureaucracy, teachers unions, effective propaganda, parents' unwillingness to tamper with anything involving their kids, or a combination of all those. In any case, change comes to our public schools at a pace glaciers would impatiently regard as agonizingly slow.
A reform effort is underway at the state level, specifically a referendum on the ballot this year about charter schools. A "Yes" vote on Amendment One would allow the creation of a state-level commission that charter school applicants could appeal to in case they're refused initial charter approval by their local school board.
(It would actually be a restoration, since a 2011 court ruling did away with the previous state charter school commission.)
The politics are raw. Charter school backers see the public school bureaucracy as counterproductive and obsessed with bean-counting over education. Standard public school backers view charter schools as elitist upstarts who want public funding without full public accountability.
The situation's made more volatile by the fact that charter schools' only real leverage right now is their higher student performance, which of course only inflames existing resentment and turf jealousy.
Sometimes things work out, as they did recently when the new Savannah Classical Academy was approved by the Savannah/Chatham County School Board (congratulations, Roger Moss!)
Sometimes they don't, as when the school board insisted that Oglethorpe Charter School's much-needed new building be significantly bigger than what the school actually needs -- then insisted that Oglethorpe change its successful teaching model to conform to the new building!
In any case, it's not a fair fight. State Attorney General Sam Olens recently had to step in and tell school boards around the state, including ours, to stop diverting taxpayer money and resources to campaign against Amendment One.
The disinformation flies fast and thick, including charges that charter schools pick and choose only the best students (certainly not the case locally), that they cost more than regular schools (per-pupil cost is usually less with charter schools), and that they are Trojan Horses for privatization (certainly not the case locally).
Largely skirting any discussion of how best to educate children, opponents of Amendment One rely on a time-tested slogan: "Keep Local Control." As in, let local school boards continue to have final say over the creation of new charter schools.
My only question for those who insist on "keeping local control" is this:
How's that workin' out for ya?
Amendment One is far from a perfect solution. But what amazes me is how its opponents point out its imperfections in meticulous detail (see this letter for an example) while pretending that everyone is happy with the status quo.
But that's the power of inertia. The public school system is a big ship that's very slow to turn, with charter schools -- despite their alleged all-powerful evil agenda -- still a little canoe capsizing in its wake.
So if you're hesitant to vote Yes on Amendment One, ask yourself again: How's that "local control" workin' out for ya?