Charter Schools: Making the Grade

In Louisiana, parents grapple with lower educational standards more than surrounding states. Louisiana ranks 44th in the nation, out of 50 states, in education—putting parents in an uncomfortable position to either invest in a private school education, or subject their children to poorly funded public schools. The latter being the only achievable choice for most. With two polarizing choices for education, parents typically opt for a middle ground––charter schools. But how exactly do these schools measure up?

In public schools throughout the state of Louisiana, students must meet a set of predetermined academic standards. These standards include Common Core and focus on critical thinking, writing skills, problem solving, and providing students with a greater understanding of what they are learning. Charter schools, on the other hand, approach academics slightly differently, by intertwining traditional learning techniques like Common Core and skill-based learning in a flexible approach to the learning process. According to Anne Silburn, K-8 Principal at Red Stick Academy, “Children attending charter schools have the unique opportunity to explore their own capabilities without being under a strict curriculum that doesn’t allow them to choose their own path.”

Across the state, where each institution has its own mission, charter schools focus on different archetypes of educational philosophies to provide students with art-based curriculums, STEM-focused curriculums, skill-based learning and more. Through this flexible learning approach, students can take part in traditional state curriculum, while also developing specific skills to set them up for success in high school and college. In Baton Rouge, specifically, Red Stick Academy follows Louisiana’s standards, while applying skill-based learning, project-based learning, string instruments, and parent-student collaboration to create a well-rounded learning environment.

“Each grade has a project that they complete at the end of the semester. For our kindergarteners, they focused on creating a lemonade stand, complete with marketing tactics and selling techniques. For our older students, they planted and maintained a garden on the school premises,” says Anne Silburn, K-8 Principal and Site Leader at Red Stick Academy. “With these projects, we’re introducing our students to critical thinking, problem-solving, and how to communicate and collaborate effectively. These are important skills that you just don’t see in public schools.”

At charter schools, the principles of accountability, choice, and autonomy are interconnected. Dr. Charles E. Natt, Principal of Baton Rouge Ochsner Discovery, states, “The wonderful thing about charter schools is you do have autonomy. The state wants us to use the Tier 1 curriculum; within that, we can choose which curriculum we want and how we want that teaching and learning to occur. It’s about the outcomes. Discovery is in its eleventh year, and since inception, we have a history of an A/B academic performance.” Ochsner Discovery also has enrollment with 70 percent or more economically disadvantaged kids and about 15 percent of specially educated kids.

Charter schools play a pivotal role in addressing community-wide educational needs by offering a unique and flexible approach to learning. According to Dr. Patty Glaser, Founding Head and CEO of Discovery Schools, “Our mission from the beginning has been to create a school that would homegrown future healthcare professionals. We started off as an elementary school, with a long waitlist from our first year. Parents ended up pleading with us that the school needed extended grades so that their children could continue on the same educational pathway.” Due to this high demand, Ochsner Discovery decided to extend the grades it serves to help meet a widespread need in the community. “Ochsner Discovery is an economic engine for the community,” says Dr. Glaser. “Charter schools exist in our state due to a demand from our communities. Parents want their children to be set up for success and believe that charter schools serve that purpose.”

“With charter schools, it’s all about the outcomes,” says Dr. Glaser. “It’s about the interests or opportunities we give to our children. A lot of our autonomy lies in the input we have and how we conduct teaching and learning. A charter school is a public school with a choice that gives students the foundation for education for any and all kids.” Everyone has a voice; every voice is heard, and every student and parent is valued as well,” says Dr. Natt. By steering away from the traditional constraints of the school system, charter schools pave the way for students to chart their own educational course, fostering a dynamic environment where individuality is celebrated and unique paths are encouraged.

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