Charter Schools 101

Everyone seems to be talking about charter schools, but how many people really understand what they are, how they work, and what the goals of charter schools are?

The concept of charter schools is relatively new. University of Massachusetts professor Ray Budde first developed the idea of a charter school as an alternative to, but not a replacement for, traditional public school education. Albert Shanker, then the president of the American Federation of Teachers, embraced the idea of charter schools in 1988 when he described the establishment of “schools of choice,” or “charter schools” as a viable answer to the question of how to improve and reform the public school system at the time.

It is important to understand that although charter schools do not have to adhere to many of the restrictions required of traditional public schools, they are nevertheless considered public schools for the following reasons:

•    Charter schools do not charge tuition, which differentiates them in a significant way from private schools; they are completely open to all students who wish to attend.
•    Charter schools are not permitted to discriminate in any way. They are required to be non-sectarian.
•    Funding for charter schools comes from tax dollars based on the number of students in attendance. This is the same source of support which traditional public schools enjoy.
•    Charter schools are held accountable for the same academic standards which conventional public schools are required by law to adhere to according to federal and individual state guidelines.

Nonetheless charter schools have a degree of independence which traditional public schools find difficult, if not impossible, to pursue. Innovative programing and the ability to meet the needs of their particular student bodies set charter schools apart from traditional public schools. Some ways in which charter schools can meet the individual needs of their students are through:

•    The institution of longer hours if the teachers and/or administrative staff believe that will help improve student outcome.
•    The school’s ability to create curricula which better meet the needs of its particular students.
•    The charter school’s mandate to create a unique academic culture, such as emphasizing arts, science, college prep, or whatever the teachers and/or administration decide should be the school’s focus.
•    The utilization of new, innovative and creative teaching paradigms. Many charter schools have chosen to depart from the traditional method of frontal teaching, exploring alternatives which often better meet the needs of students coming of age in the technological era of the 21st century.

Charter schools are an adjunct to traditional public schools which have dominated the educational landscape in the United States during the past century or more; but it is important to remember that they are not a replacement for them. Learning how charter schools work, what their goals are and how they intend to achieve those goals will help parents make the best possible choice for their children, whether that choice is traditional public schools, or schools within the framework of the charter model.


A Guide to Keep Your Schools Safe

In the face of tragedies like those that occurred recently at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, many schools around the country are scrambling to improve their safety policies. Some schools simply talk about changes, while others are actually taking action. There are many resources available for schools and community groups that want to improve upon their security measures, and one of these was just produced by Frank Storch, a Security Consultant and Coordinator for CERT in Baltimore.

An expert in the field of security for over 35 years, Frank Storch has specifically focused his attention on Jewish school throughout North American and has recently completed an essential guide called Keep Your School Safe. This new guide provides schools with a thorough review of their existing security measures and with a comprehensive way to evaluate new measures they should undertake.

As Frank Storch of Baltimore explains at the beginning of his guide, “Based on over 35 years of hands-on safety and security consulting experience, and my role as Coordinator of the Northern Park Heights CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), I believe that every school can benefit from re-evaluating and updating its safety and security measures. This is due to the constantly changing nature of outside threats, the increasing availability of new equipment and methods, and the need for staff and students to be up to date on their safety and security training.

In this light, I present this “Keep Your School Safe” guide. The purpose of this guide is to help your school ask the right questions, the answers to which will help you create a safety and security program customized to your own particular needs. After completing an assessment of your security needs and outlining a plan to address them (including the anticipated budget), consider applying for a Homeland Security grant, as well as to private foundations, charitable organizations, non-profit and for-profit companies, and local sponsors for funding.”

Read Across America Day Kicks Off in NYC

The New York Public Library hosted the kickoff event of Read Across America Day this past weekend. Hundreds of school children gathered to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday alongside celebrities like Uma Thurman and Jake T. Austin.

The two actors read Dr. Seuss classics, and explained the numerous benefits of reading.

“As a mother of three, with one now a teenager, I’ve seen the benefits of reading to and with my children throughout the span of childhood,” Uma Thurman said. “Reading has helped develop my children and my family. Spending that time together means so much.”

Jake T. Austin added:

“Reading enables us to explore our imaginations. As an actor, I get to be different characters and experience different worlds. I want children to be able to do the same through a good book.”

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel continued:

“This Read Across America Day we want students to sink their teeth into a good book…. I really like the reaction I get when I say the word ‘read!'”

According to the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, serves as a poster boy for the importance of reading. With only a high school education, he prepared for his role as U.S. president by reading copious amounts of material about other world leaders.

The Presidential Inauguration Dilemma

inaugurationReally, it’s a fascinating question for those who are intrigued by history – and even for those who aren’t that interested. If the official inauguration day (January 20th)  for the new President of the United States of America falls on a Sunday, what does the country do? And if the inauguration ceremony takes place on the 21st, then who is actually president for those gap hours?

This is a question that many have sought to answer through the years, and that President Barack Obama will address today. One Senator from Missouri, David Rice Atchison, actually managed to be president for one day, and this historic document is part of Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s “Between the Lines” program.

The crisis of the Inauguration date has actually been visited a total of seven times. The first time it occurred was for the swearing in of President James Monroe (the swearing in date was, at that time, on March 4, 1821). Monroe decided, on the advice of the justices of the Supreme Court, to postpone his second-term swearing-in by one day. There was no crisis and the country survived having “no president” for a day.

The second time that this occurred was on March 4, 1849. Rather than break his Sabbath, President-Elect Zachary Taylor put off the oath-taking for one day. David Rice Atchison, a Senator from Missouri, then joked that he was actually the president, as the Presidential Succession Act of 1792 said that without a president or vice-president, the office would go to the President pro tempore of the Senate. Ironically, however, Atchison didn’t actually take the oath that day but went home to sleep.  He ended up taking his oath of office only a few minutes before Taylor took his, so technically no one was in charge that day.

As he wrote in the letter that the Shapell Manuscript Foundation has in its collection,

I never for a moment acted as President of the US, although I was President of the Senate, at the expiration  of Mr. Polk’s term and inauguration of Genl Taylor [nor] yet for one moment did I ever consider that I was the legal President of the US, Genl Taylor was the legal Pres, & Millard Fillmore Vice President, either of whom had the legal right, to the Presidency although 31 hours elapsed between the egress of Mr. Polk and the taking of the oath by Genl Taylor.

For those keeping tabs on the presidency today, President Obama will be sworn in today in a private ceremony and will then be sworn in with a more public ceremony tomorrow, on Monday, January 21.

Say No to Saggy Pants, Says Sen. Eric Adams

In an article in the New York Post, State Senator Eric Adams (D-Queens), a former NYPD police officer, wrote poignantly about student dress codes. As Victory Education Partners pointed out, the article attempts to lobby Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to adopt a resolution banning sagging pants in the classroom.

As Sen. Adams wrote,

School is more than ABCs and 123s. It’s the beginning of developing how to interact in a social setting. When you walk through the halls of our schools, you see children showing their behind, the cracks of their behind, their underwear, young girls showing their G-strings. And the institution that’s supposed to be responsible for developing well-rounded young people is not stopping it.”

He expected that people would challenge him and say “What’s the big deal?” He goes on in the article to explain, “It is symbolic of the erosion of basic, normal decency. People shouldn’t be displaying their pubic hairs. That is not normal, acceptable behavior in young people that we are grooming to be in a professional environment. You can’t dress the same on the corner as you can in corporate America — you’ll be unemployed.”

He pointed out that the role of the schools, whether they are public schools, Victory Education Partners, or other organizations, is to teach right from wrong. Even if the kids go around the corner and ignore the rules, they will still have been told and taught what they are.

As he wrote, “Young people have always established themselves in an anti-establishment way — I don’t care if it’s wearing long hair, wearing bell bottoms, wearing miniskirts. But there was always an adult that said, “Cut your hair, make that skirt longer.” There was always a way to correct it, and that’s the role of our schools.”

In powerful language he explained that,

“This is the broken window of social behavior — when you ignore people walking the streets showing their ass.”

What do you think?


The Benefits of Creative Writing

Creative writing can be beneficial for many different reasons.  First, it is a great form of therapy; expressing oneself freely can be very cathartic.  Second, for those learning English as a second language, creative writing can reduce the frustration that comes along with learning new things.  Third, it provides a healthy and positive form of escapism, simultaneously developing skills of communication and articulation.  There are many fiction writers throughout the world, such as Seth Fischer, Randy Ingermanson, Anita Roy and more.  Some of them lead courses on how to get the most out of one’s own creative writing style, developing it to the highest level.

Creative writing workshops are constantly being held everywhere.  For example, there is one led by a Senior Commissioning Editor at Delhi publishing house Young Zubaan, Anita Roy.  She taught a workshop for Dikshant International School students in Chandigarh.  She explained, “creative writing is not simply restricted to writing a story. It is the ability to express in words, the thoughts that would otherwise remain silent, invisible. Creative writing can express thoughts, feelings and emotions rather than to simply convey information.” Roy taught the concept of feature writing through an analysis of its various parts, such as opinion, tone, plot, character, etc.

Another creative writer and teacher is Seth Fischer.  He is a teacher of both fiction and nonfiction writing.  He runs various writing workshops in the Los Angeles area, and the Antioch University Los Angeles.  He is also a contributing editor of The Rumpus.  He describes himself as being “very good at being awkward.”  That is certainly one way of viewing creative writing – anything goes, awkward or not – and the mantra can make a great start for anyone wanting to start their own career or hobby in writing.