Prince George’s County has several publicly funded charter schools. Though charter schools administer the same statewide tests and are accountable to the Board of Education for student achievement, the curricula, instructional programs, and policies may be different than in traditional public schools. Each charter school has its own Board of Directors. Policies, procedures, philosophies, and approaches to education vary from school to school.
Here, one parent relates her experiences with a charter school and a traditional public school in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS). The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.
by Khadija B.
Picture this: My husband and I wake up at 5 am to get our kids ready for their first day of school. One child attends a charter school more than 25 minutes away from home (in good traffic), and transportation is not provided. Our other child attends school a little closer, but she is in the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program. She is attending her dedicated TAG center, and transportation is provided.
I put my third grader on the private bus — that I pay out-of-pocket for — and I follow the bus to his school. Last year, he was left at this school by a different private bus company, so I hope that this will minimize the chances of a repeat of last year.
I follow the bus all the way to the charter school, only to get to the door and have the teacher say, “Students only, no parents allowed.”
“What?! I just drove twenty-five minutes, fought through traffic, took time off from work, just so that I could see and meet my child’s teacher and find out where his class will be, and you are telling me I can’t even come in the building?”
The teacher replies unapologetically, “Aww, so sorry, but you have to leave now. You can meet the teacher at Back to School Night in two weeks.”
I don’t even know how the classes are arranged. Will he be changing classes this year? Is there a PE uniform? And what about the fact that I was able to walk my son to class last year, on his first day? All of these concerns are running through my head.
Fortunately, I am not the only parent with this concern. Unfortunately, some parents are more outspoken than I am. I hear cursing. Some parents refuse to go.
I really do not want to leave without meeting his teacher and making sure she knows he wears glasses and needs to be in the front of the class, but I do not want to make a scene and embarrass him. After all, he has to see these teachers every day, not I. I decide to leave the school, but I can’t help but ask, “Excuse me, where was the email notification?” What I want to say is, “Where is your empathy for all of these parents who care and want to show their support and cheer their children on to class for their first day of school?”
Silence is what I receive, and also a shrug of the shoulder.
I decide that I will save my energy for a bigger fight, for another day. So, like a compliant parent, I leave. I still contemplate sending an email, or making a complaint to the principal or Parent Teacher Organization, but what difference would it make? After all, this is a charter school.
This is not my first showdown with a charter school. I have experience with a different charter school as well, the one I pulled my son and daughter from to send to the schools that they are attending now. For many reasons, my impression has been that there is no regard for the parent voice, no oversight, no immediate results, no noticeable improvements. So why should I bother sending the email or speaking to the principal?
But wait! There is a light. My husband follows my daughter’s bus to her new school, our assigned TAG center, where the kids are greeted by the Men of First Baptist Church of District Heights. Each man is standing alongside the sidewalk cheering for each child as they walk through the doors. In stark contrast with the charter school, at this school my husband is able to walk my 5th grader to her class, take pictures of her getting settled in, talk with the teacher and stay for as long as he desires. He leaves of his own accord; no one forces him or asks him to.
You can tell that this school longs for parent participation, welcomes and encourages it. The charter school says that parent participation is welcome, but the policies they have and days like the one I had today, make me think they want to prevent it.
At the TAG center, scheduling visits is easy. For example, when I requested a tour in May of this year, I was greeted by both the TAG coordinator and principal. Everyone was eager to show me what they were doing and what my child would be doing. We walked to every TAG classroom, and I stayed for almost an hour.
Just today, I received a newsletter from my son’s charter school which states that in order to visit my child’s classroom I have to go through two different channels to make a ”request” for a classroom visit. In addition, classroom visits will be limited to 15 minutes only. Did I also mention that this is the same school that told me last year that tours are strictly prohibited during school hours?
Why do charter schools have waitlists? Why are we fighting and pressing our way to send our children to far-away schools, where we as parents only get 15 minute visitation rights and they make us feel as if we have no voice and no input in our child’s education?
The reason is clear: We are searching for better. We put up with the disrespect and lack of communication in the hopes that our children are getting a “better” education than what they would be getting at their neighborhood schools. Is this true? Are the charters better? Maybe some are, though there are some great neighborhood schools too. But parents are so fed up with the school system that they are not going to risk their child’s education on the hopes that PGCPS will get its act together. Having a school system that is second to last in the state, in a county that has the most affluent African Americans, per capita, in the United States, doesn’t add up.
So we press on, hoping that change will happen, and then… we wait.