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May 5, 2021

5 min

Dr. Jessica Spallino

Public Education is an Industry Ripe for Reform - Especially in California

Just because the school districts have been here longer and have grasped on to a consistent model for more than a century doesn’t mean it is the only way to deliver education to students. New needs have emerged and thus new models.

In light of the newly-proposed California Assembly Bill 1316, we as charter schools appear to collectively share a compulsion to share our views and offer insight into the destruction it will cause. As a direct response to the criminal actions of a small group of individuals within a singular organization, this bill primarily targets non-classroom based charter schools that have provided a succinct model for decades to students and their families in need of a less traditional and more personalized and flexible delivery for their education.

As we’ve seen, traditional education (schools districts, teachers unions and their strong allies) has been a highly regulated industry pervaded with seemingly well-intentioned California Education Codes aimed to protect the public service of education for every student. Along with this enduring commitment to preserve has come a somewhat rigid and obstinate position of virtuous nobility within the traditional space of education that has played out in the form of resistance to change and evolution. Though the intention of preservation is honorable, it has ultimately impaired the overall industry and prevented it from progressing in critical ways. Rather than accounting for changes in student and societal needs, it has tightly grasped on to the way it has always been done, to ensure that the traditional service of education to students is defended, but this has only created stagnancy. In any industry, a stagnant model will eventually become obsolete.

The problem with this is that much, if not everything has changed. Technology has changed how we are able to manage daily tasks as educators and access pertinent data to better serve students. Curriculum providers now play an important role in how we teach. Charter schools and school choice have disrupted the old age model of attending the school in which, by address, a student is assigned. Students are interested in alternate modalities and need to be prepared for a different future than before.

Rather than maintaining a focus on the student and considering the non-traditional approaches that thousands of students have continued to express they prefer, traditional education has defended what is seen as an exclusive way to educate students. Traditional education has protected that singular way by imposing legislation to slowly dismantle differing modalities and retract the right for students to choose the way they’d like to learn.

The reality is that the differing modalities are here. They’re already in operation and effectively serving thousands of students who have chosen to appoint them with the privilege of educating them. The fact that traditional education is resisting differing modalities is putting the entire education industry at risk. Risk of being vulnerable to corruption, risk of losing students to other options and worst of all, risk of not effectively preparing students for their lives in the real world. How will this forced stagnation impact students and their lives? How will it impact future generations they raise? How will it impact society? Businesses? Overall industries? Our economy? The global economy? The cost of stagnation continues to be high and we are reminded each day of how important educating generations is in the trajectory of our health as a species.

I’d like to veer from problem identification and offer an undoubtedly controversial solution. One that would disrupt the incessant attacks on a model designed to serve those students in need of a non-traditional approach to learning. For the sake of the unlimited variety of students within California that we hold a responsibility to serve, based on their right to choose, let’s all come together to develop new, sensible and collaborative ways to serve those students.

Currently, charter schools can operate only if a school district approves their program with a generally granted 5-year authorization. It doesn’t take a weary charter school founder or administrator to outline the many problems this approval structure poses. How can an entity whose livelihood is threatened by a newer entity rightly be in a position to approve the new entity’s existence? That would be similar to any new business needing approval from its competitor to be in business. Just because the school districts have been here longer and have grasped on to a consistent model for more than a century doesn’t mean it is the only way to deliver education to students. New needs have emerged and thus new models.

A drastic overhaul to the charter school authorization process is needed

We need a drastic overhaul to the charter school authorization process in California by appointing or designing a new, neutral third party to provide deserving charter school applicants the license to serve students. We need to combine intelligent and capable forces, all in the name of the students, to create an authorizing authority that provides fair and supportive consideration and oversight for those charter schools that are accountable, student driven and in demand. As in many other states throughout our country, we need to diligently and swiftly work towards charter school authorization reform where we can work in conjunction with school districts, rather than against them. Equipped with a neutral authorizing entity, charter schools and school districts can work more harmoniously and even in support of each other to more effectively serve students a variety of options.

I was drawn to this specific niche within the field of education because I found the ability to more personally connect to students and families one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I would love to continue this privilege along-side those who offer differing approaches to serving students. Like parents modeling healthy collaboration to their children, I am interested in modeling tolerance and support across the educational lines in order to develop new ways to govern charter schools and support their efforts in serving students in need of different options and solutions in which they can learn and grow. With more than 25 years of experience working in the non-classroom based charter school space, I will be working towards this vision of a more fair and viable structure designed to provide ample educational options for students throughout California.

Learn more about Charter Authorization Reform

5 Differences Between Charter and Public Schools

7 Differences Between Charter and Private Schools

Education 101: What is a Public Charter School?

The Progressive Movement: An Enduring Inspiration in Public Education

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