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#AskExcelinEd: Why do PARENTS start public charter schools?

• Sam Duell

If you’re not familiar with charter schools, this question may not have occurred to you. You might not have realized that parents are often founders of charter schools. But they are. I know because I recently asked dozens of charter school founders why they started charter schools, and here are six examples of what parents told me.

The local public school closed.

“The local rural traditional public school that my children would have gone to was recently closed by the cooperative school district.”

– A mom in New Hampshire

A language program was not offered.

“I started a language immersion school (Mandarin and Spanish) because I wanted my children (and other children in Cleveland) to have immersion as an educational opportunity for them. Prior to my school opening, Immersion education was not available in Northeast Ohio. Additionally, Mandarin immersion was not available in the entire state of Ohio.”

– A mom in Ohio

Local schools were too big.

“The nearby district schools were very large and impersonal. I joined a group of parents with the idea of starting a school that would be more welcoming and overtly multicultural. “

– A dad in New York

There were serious safety concerns.

“The population in Southern California was growing at a fast rate and schools could not keep up. They were extremely overcrowded. When my son entered the local high school, he told me about a stabbing at school. I called the school and the Assistant Principal asked, ‘Which stabbing was that?’ That’s all I needed to hear to be sold on starting an alternative option for my own children.”

– A mom in California

A love for a specific curriculum.

“I was dissatisfied with the district’s curriculum and I discovered Core Knowledge at a magnet school in the district. Then I learned that a group of parents were breaking off from the magnet school to form a new charter school and I joined them. I eventually became one of the founding teachers as well as a parent of two students who attended the new charter school.”

– A mom in Colorado

A belief that school can be better.

“It started with personal experience. When our son, a motivated and engaged student who enjoyed school, entered middle school, his experience changed dramatically. Within weeks he developed serious school resistance and had become a completely different and withdrawn person. We started talking with other parents, trying to find some answers. Overwhelmingly, we heard that people felt that middle school was something kids just had to get through – and perhaps it would get better in high school. As education researchers – we knew that the idea that kids just need to survive middle school was terrible! Especially as we learn the amazing new brain research, which shows that the middle school years are nearly as magical as our first year of life – we need to be deeply engaging students during this time, not turning them off to learning. Ultimately – these conversations with other parents turned into a grass-roots effort to create something different for our community. We opened a charter school about 2 years later.”

– A mom in North Carolina

Remember, charter schools don’t exist without state-level policy. They are policy mechanisms that allow parents to actively engage public education. That’s why ExcelinEd supports charter school growth, strong facilities policies, measuring charter outcomes and sound authorizing policy. And by supporting charter schools, policymakers not only enable parents to address real problems for their own children. Charter school policy empowers parents to improve life for entire communities.

About the author

Sam Duell

Before Sam joined ExcelinEd as the Associate Policy Director for Charter Schools, he was a special education teacher, a school and central office administrator, the Executive Director of School Choice at Oklahoma’s department of education and the Managing Director of OPSRC’s Education Collaborative. In every position, Sam worked creatively to meet student needs. He founded the Integrated Support Program at Fischer Middle School in San Jose, California to increase the number and percentage of students with learning disabilities who have access to the general education classroom. He was the first administrator of Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the authorizer for online schools in Oklahoma. And he co-founded a statewide afterschool network called the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning to organize and advocate for expanded learning opportunities after school and during the summer. Sam’s current interests include charter schools and their role in a functional, thriving democracy.