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Watch Your Language! How We Can Use Our Words to Reinforce Facts About Charter Schools.

By Melanie Horton, Senior Marketing Manager

August 8, 2019

With so many myths out there about charter schools, it’s important that we as advocates use language that encourages the spread of accurate information about our schools. This is just as important when communicating with others in our own school communities, from parents to teachers to local leaders, so that we continue to cement the very concepts that drew us to charter schools in the first place.

Charter schools are public schools. We often hear people – inside and outside the movement – referring to local district schools as “public schools” and our schools as “charter schools”. Since charter schools are public schools, we should not reserve the label of “public” for district schools, and we should instead refer to district schools as just that – district schools. Both charter schools and district schools fall under the umbrella of public schools. You may also want to consider referring to charter schools as “public charter schools” to further drive home the message.

Open Enrollment. One myth that exists about charter schools is that we’re allowed to “cherry pick” our students by administering admissions exams. Let’s make sure we always use the term “Open Enrollment” and not “Admissions”, as some may associate “admissions” with the private school or college admissions process, which involves determination based on academic record and other factors.

When open enrollment rolls around, we need to collect prospective students’ personal information so that we may enter them into a lottery for the available spaces at the school, and we do this by asking their families to fill out paperwork.  Instead of referring to this paperwork as an application, which implies a selection process (or at the very last, a formal review and determination by a greater authority), let’s aim to use another term such as “form”. While it’s true that the form must be reviewed to ensure compliance with a charter school’s lottery guidelines, we do not want to imply that students are being evaluated or judged in any way. This might seem like a small detail, but the words we use can have powerful implications that either support or detract from the truth about charter schools.

To reinforce that all students are eligible for enrollment in charter schools so long as they meet the requirements outlined in the lottery guidelines approved by the schools’ authorizer, we can post these guidelines at the school and remind stakeholders that students are randomly selected during the lottery.

Accountability. We often hear from critics that charter schools aren’t accountable and don’t have to abide by the same rules as district schools; that charters can “do whatever they want”. While charter schools have some regulatory freedoms relative to district schools, which allow charter schools to meet the unique needs of their communities, we accept this flexibility in exchange for increased accountability for student and operational results. New charter schools are required to submit a robust charter application that outlines the school’s proposed educational program, governance structure, budget, and additional details specific to each authorizer, and must renew their application every few years in order to continue existing (how often depends on the authorizer).

Renewing a charter school involves submitting a charter renewal application in which the school must show tangible progress toward the goals laid out in the original petition.  Schools may be denied renewal for poor academic performance or financial mismanagement, so this is serious business.

Let the members of your community know how charter schools are held fully accountable in a multitude of areas throughout the year as well as how they are required to prove – every few years – whether they’ve earned the privilege of continuing to serve their students and families. We can communicate our accountability by keeping our stakeholders in the loop when we’re going through the renewal process or fulfilling another local compliance requirement. This can be as simple as briefly sharing these milestones and achievements in the employee and parent newsletters.

Let’s remind the people of our communities – across the spectrum of advocates, critics, and the uninformed – that charter schools are about choice, accountability, and innovation.

What other positive language suggestions do you have for charter school advocates? We’d love to hear from you and build out our recommendations. Leave us a note in the comments section!