Oprah Gives to Denver Charter | Are Charters Best for Your Child?

Oprah Winfrey Gives Money to Denver SchoolOprah Winfrey just gave $1 million to the Denver School of Science & Technology, a high performing charter school. I live in Denver. Of course, I’m thrilled.

But charter schools have become a political football. Many conservatives like them a lot and some liberals, including teachers’ unions, on the other hand, often don’t like them.

But some liberals who don’t like charters are annoyed at other liberals like Oprah and Barack Obama who do like charters.

Read the "Wall Street Journal," you’ll find charter school success stories. Read the "New York Times" and you’re more likely to read charter school failure stories.

Everybody's right. Some charter schools, Oprah’s choice in Denver and the new charter schools in New Orleans, for example, are excellent schools.

Other charter schools have proven no better and sometimes worse, much worse than their traditional neighborhood public schools.

And sometimes a great charter school is a lousy choice for your child. An open, loosely structured school environment won't work forADHD kids, for example. 

A child who's passionate about the arts and has talent won't be happy at a school that emphasizes science and technology even though that's what you think your child needs.

So how do parents choose the right school for their kids?

  1. Are you willing to be involved in school decisions, operations, even hiring and firing? Most charter schools require a substantial time commitment from parents—not just sending cupcakes for the bake sale. If you aren’t willing to be involved or don’t have the time, sending your child to a charter school is probably out of the question.
  2. Do your homework. What are the test scores from this school? How do they rank with other schools in your area? If it’s a high school, how many kids go on to college? (School statistics from test scores to teacher-student ratios to demographics, for all but a few of the smallest private schools, are easily available on the Internet.)
  3. Visit the school with your child. Is someone available to show you around? Is the school clean, un-crowded, cheerful, and relatively quiet and calm. Are you and your child treated with respect?
  4. Find out exactly what’s expected of you as a parent. How much time will be involved?
  5. What’s the turn-over rate? Do lots of kids transfer out after a year? Unless you’re close to a military base, a high transfer-out rate isn’t a good sign.
  6. Talk to other parents.
  7. How many children in a class? What about the number of and accessibility to computers. If you don’t have a computer at home, the computer question is very important.
  8. Many charter schools have very low operating budgets, don’t have a “real” school building, few outside activities for kids, and no frills. Is this important to you? To your child? If you child is involved in community sports programs and other outside activities, it probably won’t matter that the school doesn’t provide these activities.
  9. If the school emphasizes a specific curriciulum, such as science and technology, is this a good fit for your child? If it emphasizes a particular kind of discipline or classroom structure, are you in agreement with this. Will it work for your child? Is this school structured enough for an ADHD kid?

If you choose a popular charter school, admittance may be by lottery. So be sure to have a second choice—another school you’ve where you’ve also done your homework.

Always keep in mind that the quality of the school is far more important than whether it’s a charter school, a private school, a faith-based school, or a traditional neighborhood public school. Make your decision based on the excellence of the school and your child’s needs, not your politics.

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About Dr. MaryJo Wagner

MaryJo Wagner, PhD, helps you help your kids transform ADHD behavior for success. Sign up at Coaching & Accountability to get your questions answered with a complimentary Transformation Session.

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