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A public school education is as enshrined in America as the Pilgrims, with the first public school founded in Boston in 1635. But there have always been private and parochial schools for those who have made that personal family choice, although by and large our zip codes have made the decision of which school our children would attend.
For the last quarter century, there has been another factor that has both intrigued and alienated the public school community – public school academies, or charter schools, paid for with public school dollars but available to select communities. In many areas of Michigan, including here in Oakland County, charter school populations are primarily comprised of disadvantaged youth, with test scores and achievement metrics failing to meet higher educational goals. To some, this indicates they are failing schools taking money out of the coffers of public education. To others, it just means there is more to do to provide better choices for an at-risk population.
"We've had school choice for years for people of means, for people who could move from an urban to a suburban school district, or for people who could pay for private school tuition – no one could begrudge them for paying for private school education while also paying to support local education through their taxes. Public school academies, or charter schools, provide choice for those who don't have the means to move or to pay private school tuition," Gary Naeyaert said, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), a non-profit advocacy organization supporting quality choices in public education.
To Loretta James of Pontiac, choice for the sake of choice no longer looks like a better option, after sending her granddaughter Harmony Brown to the Michigan School for the Arts in Pontiac since kindergarten, a charter school authorized by Oakland University. Harmony, now a fifth grader at the school, has grades "that are not where they should be. For it to be a charter, her grades are Cs and Ds," James said. "She could do a lot better, but there's not a lot of encouraging (from her teachers) for her to do better. There's no one (from the school) calling to have the students be better. The teacher isn't encouraging her to turn in work, or to help the kids all the time. Harmony could study more – but the school needs to set a better guideline.
"When I went to school, most teachers wouldn't put up with a kid saying, 'I don't feel like doing that today,' and then just sending a note home," James contended. Rather than feeling like there are more educational options, she said she feels trapped. She would like to switch and enroll Harmony into the Avondale School District, but hasn't been able to so far....continued on page 2