There has been much talk about charter schools in the last few decades. Discussions on when and where they are appropriate, and whether public money should be diverted to their funding. That is a decent discussion that should be had but that is not the discussion at hand today. In most public schooling scenarios, there is little room for change and innovation. Public schools must educate and must do so in order to keep their funding. Charter schools, when supported by private funding, has a chance to provide innovation and experimentation in the education field.Charter schools offer a chance for educators to circumvent the status quo. The use of public fund requires schools to follow governmental guidelines for teaching. While charter school students will still be required to meet all governmental minimum requirements, getting to those requirements can include a different approach to teaching and learning.
In 15 years of designing schools, not a whole lot has changed. The reason for this I think is simple, in that public education is entrenched in the standardized methods when it comes to teaching. This is not wholly the fault of the system as it is designed for efficiency and churning out educated young adults as has been working for generations. The main issue comes from teaching from a teacher-centered focus, where the teacher is in charge and leads all students on the same educational journey. This has been the standard since the days of public education, something born of the industrial revolution. We teach our kids the way we build cars on an assembly line. One space for math, another separate space for English. Everyone gets the same morsels of information, at the same time, in order to be able to pass the same test.
But what if this is not the best way to teach our children? We have kids that sit in class unable to get involved because they are utterly bored with the curriculum, who come to school to learn and are denied for the simple fact that they already know the things being taught. At the other end of the spectrum we have kids that can’t keep up, who shut down at the thought of school,and are made to feel stupid because they can’t seem to learn.
Another idea for teaching that has been around a long time is student-centered teaching. It has met with a significant amount of problems and issues due to the way we structure teaching in most schools, as well as a misunderstanding from teachers used to old methods. A student-centered teaching curriculum understands that every student is different, learns at a different rate, and has different interests than other students. These are things that could be better exploited for a more meaningful and engaged learning experience for students and a more involved and shared teaching experience for educators. The biggest problem stems from teachers reverting to their old ways when trying to change the paradigm. It starts with understanding, and a small bit of removing oneself from the equation. At the end of the day it should be about the student not the teacher.
What charter schools can do in this stage of education is to provide a place to research these ideas surrounding student-centered learning, by providing innovative ways of teaching. But it won’t just be the educators who must be involved in this research. We as school designers must also be educated in the ways of this teaching method in order to provide the right spaces for their use. We cannot simply force these new methods into old paradigms of school design. We must change with them. Open and adaptable spaces must be the norm. The term agile is a new way of thinking, not just providing spaces that can open, but spaces that can change as needed. Spaces that can be closed off when openness is a detriment. But of course, we will always need the old standards like gymnasiums, but maybe it’s not such a good idea to mix a cafeteria and a stage for plays and acts. These types of things are ripe for exploration in charter schools where a public school may be hesitant to change. And these types of experiments can come back later and change and enrich public schools themselves.
I think the time has come to make a change in our education system, and I think charter schools could be the key to making that change. We must do everything in our power to make sure every child receives an education, but we can no longer be satisfied with adequate. We must always be striving to better ourselves and better our future.