You Can’t Believe Every Horror Story You Hear About Charter Schools

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As a charter school teacher, I often find myself at recruiting events or canvassing for students to attend my school, KIPP INDY. Because of my school’s results, and fairly good reputation, many of the families I talk to are receptive. However, it never fails that I encounter at least one family or community stakeholder that has some crazy story about how my school wronged somebody they know.

In my first year of teaching, I was taken aback by these stories. I was excited to work for my school, but I didn’t want to work for a school guilty of the stories that I heard through word of mouth on the recruiting trail.

I’m in my 7th year of teaching now, all at the same school, I can say unequivocally that you can’t listen to all of these stories.

Having been at my school for so long, I have now experienced the other side of some of these negative narratives making their way around the neighborhood, and they are almost always misleading or blatantly false. And why wouldn’t they be? After-all you wouldn’t necessarily expect a student or their family to be completely honest about why they were held back, suspended, or expelled. They are almost never in agreement with those decisions and aren’t exactly inclined to tell people the whole truth about their shortcomings in the situation.

Most people know there are two sides to every story and that people would obviously be biased towards their side. The issue we face in the education community today is that many of these stories, that should be taken with a grain of salt at a minimum, are believed at face value and amplified by the opponents of charter schools.

Legitimizing the unfounded horror stories of people with a vendetta is dangerous and irresponsible. However, it will more than likely continue so here are a couple of ideas you need to remember when you encounter a negative story about charter schools:

1.       You haven’t heard the school’s side of the argument because laws and privacy rules prevent them from talking.

I often hear people talk about incidents that are discipline decisions that happened at my school around the neighborhood. Having been there for so long, I have inside knowledge on most or all of those stories, but due to privacy rules and FERPA laws, I can neither confirm nor deny any of the allegations. If I could,  I would be doing a lot of denying.

For example, a common narrative about my school is they expel people for no reason. The names attached may change, but the general theme is the same. "X student was expelled for a minor infraction."  Well, I may happen to know for a fact that "X" student was expelled for a pattern of serious infractionsbut I can’t say that because FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, prevents me from sharing that kind of information. That student and his family are bound by no such law and are free to tell whatever story they want unchecked, and they often do.

2.       The community organizations and activists spreading the stories often have an agenda.

Traditional public school advocates often have a laundry list of the stories that disparage school choice. For example, anti-charter school organizations and activists love to relay stories of harsh discipline and inequitable practices to their followers because it supports a negative narrative they are seeking to craft about charters schools. This is despite the fact traditional public schools are no stranger unequitable discipline practices. 

Obviously, it isn’t smart to take the stories of people with an ax-to-grind at face value, especially when you consider the fact that these people and groups are often only using anecdotal evidence because the data doesn’t support their narrative.

This isn’t to say my school or any other charter school is completely absolved from any allegation of wrong doing. There was a time where my school admittedly suspended too many kids. There are some charters that probably do have inequitable discipline policies. My advice is don’t let the negative experiences of one family given to you through a second-hand teller turn you off to a school.   

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.