The debate about whether to allow charter schools in Alabama is a worthwhile exercise in the effort to improve the schools we have.
Charter schools are taxpayer-funded primary and secondary schools that have more flexibility in hiring and programming. They typically receive less oversight from the states that have them, a fact that has allowed some to flourish but most to fail.
In debating the wisdom of charter schools, elected officials, educators and parents are forced to isolate weaknesses in our public schools. With every advantage touted for charter schools, the same question arises: Why are we not giving public schools the same advantages?
An overwhelming problem in public schools was mentioned Monday in Decatur by new state Superintendent Tommy Bice. In a welcome acknowledgement, Bice said the state Department of Education has “become too bureaucratic and system driven.”
While the state can help relieve the bureaucracy that limits innovation by teachers and schools, much of the problem stems from the federal government.
The federal No Child Left Behind law, praiseworthy in its goals, eliminated much of the flexibility educators require if they are to meet the needs of their students.
The push for charter schools is in large part a search for an escape valve from regulatory burdens that no longer benefit students or their communities.
The good news is that almost everyone recognizes the need for change.
Decatur City Schools Superintendent Sam Houston on Monday stressed the local need for less bureaucracy and a relaxation in cumbersome oversight. Bice agreed.
In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama proposed federal efforts aimed at the same goal:
“Give (schools) the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”
Local, state and federal leaders agree that public schools need more flexibility. If lawmakers pursue that goal, they will undo the stifling bureaucracy that gives charter schools their comparative appeal.