Editor's note: this piece was coauthored by Kurt Altman.
Beth Richardson searched Columbia, South Carolina for the best school for her son. Jed, age 7, attended a Montessori school for kindergarten, but after weeks of research in preparation for first grade, Beth enrolled him at East Point Academy, a Chinese-immersion charter school.
“I visited every single school that was available to us in Columbia,” Beth said. “I spent a lot of time at the Chinese immersion school before we moved him.”
This year, the Richardson family was one of more than 2 million families across the country that chose charter schools, which are independent, tuition-free public schools. Charter schools pride themselves on unique mission statements and teaching styles. School leaders sign a contract, or charter, with a state agency or local school district, and the schools can choose to focus on math and science or, like East Point, teach classes in both Chinese and English.
What sets charter schools apart is their ability to choose their own textbooks and teaching strategies. The national Common Core standards that swept through the country in recent years threaten this key characteristic. These standards require all public school students—traditional and charter—to learn specific material in a predefined sequence. The standards have forced schools to revise their curriculum strategies and teaching methods.
Textbook companies are stamping “Aligned with the Common Core” on their book covers. Even supporters of the Common Core have admitted that the standards are more than just benchmarks and will change how teachers teach. Now, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding a project that reviews curriculum to see how well it matches the standards.
By its nature, Common Core causes charters to become more like the traditional schools next door. As state lawmakers around the country grapple with Common Core’s effects, maintaining charters’ independence must be a part of these decisions.