As a parent, one of the biggest decisions you can make is choosing the right school for your child. If your child was struggling in school, what would you would do? Perhaps you would talk to your child’s teacher or principal, find a tutor, or explore options that might help them succeed in their current school.
And if it got worse? Maybe you’d look for school options that would be a better fit for your child. Any parent would be eager to ensure that the education their children receive prepares them for success in the future.
For many families, this hypothetical is reality. And sadly, not all families have access to additional educational options for their children’s education.
If the only school available meets a child’s needs then all is well. But what if it does not? And what if it’s your child? What if he or she needs extra help in math but there are no tutors? What if your child has an interest in Science Technology Engineering and Math, and the school offers no advanced classes? What if your child is bullied and needs a new environment?
We are fortunate to live in a state with public education options. But what exactly does that mean, and how does it work?
Let’s start with the basics:
- District-operated traditional public schools are always free and open to all students in the community. These schools are managed by the locally elected school board and funded from the state and local property taxes. Students are assigned to their district-operated school based on zoning and zip code, which can largely determine what type of education experience they have.
- Charter schools are also always public schools, and in Tennessee, most are part of their local school districts. Like district-operated public schools, they are free and open to all students in the community, regardless of academic need. But unlike district-operated schools, charter schools are also open to students from other neighborhoods who might like to attend a different public school. These schools are created by community leaders and educators who have the flexibility to design school structures and instructional models that are tailored to their student communities and deliver a high-quality education, no matter the zip code. Charter schools are often established in low-income or underserved communities, by leaders from those communities, in direct response to a desire for additional public education options. You can find more information on charter schools in your community from the Tennessee Charter School Center.
- Magnet schools are part of the district-operated school system, but have a specific curricular focus, such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), performing arts, or vocational paths. Like charter schools, they are open to students who live outside a particular school zone. Seats in these schools are often competitive and can be based on past academic performance, an audition and/or scores on an entrance exam. At magnet schools, any child can apply based on interest.
The right public school option for you and your family could be a district-operated public school, a public charter school, or a magnet school —or a combination of all three. The bottom line is: You have the power to find the right school for your family.
Uniquely designed and always public, charter schools are a critical part of public education in Tennessee. If you’ve not considered a charter school, you could be missing a great opportunity.
Simply put, charter school teachers and leaders have the freedom and flexibility to meet the unique needs of the students in their school. They can meet students where they are and provide the best learning methods for them to gain the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in college, career, and life.
It’s a model that works for the thousands of students, teachers, and schools that make up the dynamic charter school community in Tennessee. Some schools focus on college prep, some follow a STEM curriculum, and others integrate the arts into each subject. All are focused on the student and their unique learning needs.
Some parents may not know there are many public education options available to their children. I encourage you to share this information with your network of family and friends.
If you believe all kids deserve access to a great public education, then you should believe in public charter schools as one of the ways to make that happen.
Maya Bugg, Ed.D., is the CEO of the Tennessee Charter School Center