|Art work by one of my 7th grade students, regular public school|
When I first heard about a free public "Arts Academy" charter school opening for grades 5-8 I was excited because the arts had just been drastically reduced at my son's elementary school. I was even thinking about applying for a job. And I've always believed that all subjects should be taught through the arts. But after pre-enrolling my son, and finding out more about the school and charter schools in general, I changed my mind. My son was not too interested anyway, since he is only 11 and not really ready to focus on a career path. He enjoys baseball as much as his music, movie making and other creative endeavors. Right now he's into cooking, since he's experiencing home economics class at school.
The arts charter school holds auditions, which they call "interviews". They have a strict behavior policy and will not accept students who have been suspended or have behavior issues. I believe that all children deserve equal opportunities to discover their talents at school. Even the kids who misbehave and may be suspended. In fact, the "bad" kids are usually the ones who benefit most from the arts, and really need more hands on learning experiences. Before this royal academy of the arts even opened they were boasting about academic rigor and world class excellence. The woman I spoke with on the phone even told me that they would never allow students to waste time coloring, like they do at public schools. She assured me that students will be focused on academics at all times. Really? Well I've found that for many students coloring helps them calm down, and helps with hand eye coordination and fine motor skills. And kids enjoy coloring. Hmmm. I did not get a good feeling from this person on the phone, and I did not like her rigid tone.
Here's what I think- since the charters can skim students, they are not really public schools, and should not be supported with public money. Charter schools can send kids back to the regular public schools if they misbehave, or even if they don't do well on standardized tests. This is how charters can claim to have high graduation rates, and high test scores. That's cheating! I cannot support charters. They can make up their own rules and curriculum. Some charters even refer to their principals as CEOs! There are all sorts of problems with charters. The whole concept of charters lends itself to cheating, profiteering, and corruption. That's not best for kids.
The Arts Academy Charter school for grades 5-8 was started because arts programs are being cut, and parents want schools with strong arts programs. The charter operators seized on this opportunity to fill a void. Due to budget cuts and lack of real leadership, the arts have been greatly reduced in the ASD elementary schools, but not in the middle schools. So is this new arts school really needed? Do 5th graders and middle school students really need to focus on a specialized area of study?
Some parents of students in our district feel like they have no choice but to send their kids to charters, since the neighborhood public school has become an unsafe learning environment. There is bullying and severely disruptive students at our middle schools. Parents are looking for alternatives. I can understand the appeal of schools that have well behaved kids. And to add to this, our governor has unfairly labeled our city schools as "failing" based on PSSA reading and math test scores. Parents are now offered "opportunity scholarships" (vouchers) to send their kids to religious or private schools. We now have resegregation in our neighborhood schools. So much for diversity.
Does the Arts Academy really offer more arts than my son's regular public school? They claim students are immersed in the arts for the entire afternoon, after a morning of rigorous "academics." Wait a minute, the arts ARE academic! Arts should be integrated with reading, math, and science. All subjects should be taught through the arts, but they are not, they are separated at the Arts Academy. Hmmm. Students can choose to focus on visual art, ice skating, dance, vocals, or instrumental music. Ice skating? Hmm, that's rather specialized and seems like a waste of tax payer money.
Let's compare: At my son's "failing" middle school he participates in the orchestra, talent shows, there is drama and dance, they have a chorus, a band, free music lessons, art class, tech ed class, music class, foreign languages. He does get physical education, sports, clubs, lots of after school enrichment opportunities. He has family and consumer science class (home economics) where he gets to be creative. So he is getting the arts, probably just about as much, and maybe even more than the elitist and experimental Arts Academy of world class excellence.
Courts have ruled that charters are not public schools. It's complicated. Charters funnel public money into private coffers, with no public oversight. And some of our state legislators actually sit on boards of charter schools. Shame on them. I don't think it's right that public money is used to benefit a chosen few at an arts "academy" while poor minority kids are being denied the arts. Fund our public schools and make the arts mandatory at every public school!