Catholic School v. Charter School

One of the most difficult decisions in the saga of our Catholic school closing
(read Part 1 & Part 2) is our decision to go to the Charter school that is being set up at our old school.

In one way it was easy, we don’t have the money. Our older son is beginning Catholic High School next year. Two tuitions were not feasible for us. I’m, for the most part, a stay-at-home mom. I have been very committed to that decision. I occasionally work part-time, but I think that in the trade-off between more money v. more time, more time wins. Of course, so many women can’t make that choice because our society is ever more increasingly hostile to single-income families, but we have been fortunate that we could do it. Our kids have never been to theme parks and they have survived. And I will be taking more free-lance work now that both kids are in school.

The hard part of the decision for me is the loss of Catholic school in our 6 year old son’s life. Catholic school is special. It is the loving, small school, family environment. You can talk about God there. You can read the Bible. “Jesus” is not a dirty word. Prayer is expected. Love and Charity are expected. To do your best is expected.

Is every Catholic school like this? Definitely Not. One school near us, the one everyone says is just excellent, and has a huge waiting list, is very successful and has all the awards – is very cold. Everything is about money – how much you make, how you make it, who you know. I visited it years ago and the whole place felt snooty. The sports teams are very good, but also very proud, and not in a good way. They act superior to other teams, looking down on them. Those who are not well-off are not welcomed. I was very uncomfortable just going to Mass there. But our school was not like that, and we are spoiled.

What about Public School? Well, not all public schools are bad. Just like any other school, parents have to look out for their kids. The teachers and the area are very important. More affluent areas have middle-class to upper-middle-class students who are usually guided by their parents to put an effort into learning. And education is, for the most part, encouraged. Not all areas are like that.

Truthfully, it is the “Middle School,” that I worry about the most. Some of them are cesspools when it comes to behavior. One girl in my son’s graduating class was in public school until 7th grade. In the middle of the year her parents moved her to our 4K-8 Catholic school, and she will be going to Catholic High School in the fall. Why? Sexual activity in the hallways of the supposed “good school.” Last year, a public middle school in the next county had one student murder another in the bathroom.

A friend of mine went to her local middle school with her son on a field trip a few years ago. This was to be his new school the next year. She was shocked. She lives in a very affluent area. The kids acted like they were in prison. Not a smile anywhere. The principal kept on telling parents what a “safe school” it was. The ethos was awful, and she knew she had to do something. The next year she homeschooled him and the following year he went to a Catholic school.

Now that I’ve given my opinion on why Catholic school is so good – what is not so great. Well, I think sometimes the academics can be better. It depends on the school and the teachers. I’m told that public schools try to make learning more fun, less worksheet dependent. And our charter school follows that. Catholic schools are always fundraising. Always begging for money, even the more well-off ones. There is the tuition, then fees, all the supplies you need to buy. Public schools have buses – for better or worse and more options for before & after care.

When I began 6th grade my mother took me out of our Catholic school and put me in the public middle school because she could not afford the tuition. This was 1976. I was a good student and would have done well anywhere. I was bored for a year, though. I had to listen to kids read aloud who….read….like….this… I was frustrated and the kids were meaner, but I survived. We had some cool classes though: silk screening, wood shop, home economics, swim class. The library was bigger, etc. And that is still true I think. Public schools are for the most part, except for very affluent private schools, much better funded.

If you have a special needs kid you will probably be in Public School. Whether your child is gifted or autistic, they will get more of what they need there. Not that it will be perfect, you have to fight for everything your child needs, but by law you will probably get it.

My prejudice against Public Schools is the liberal bent. The handing out of condoms and all the sexual goings on in public schools. The violence in some schools. The drugs and weapons. The laxity of discipline. The kids – and parents – who just don’t care. The one thing about both religious and charter schools is that you have parents who care. Parents for whom education is important and that makes a difference. In the high school my son is zoned for, only 70% actually graduate, and of that number only 44% go to college. In the Catholic high school he will be going to – 99% of the kids go to college and the other 1% go to military academies. Now which school do I want my kid to go to? Who will be his friends? His girlfriends? His future contacts? What will rub off on him? The kids there are drug-free (they have random testing – the kids voted for it.) It is as safe as a school as can be.

So now we move to Charter schools. Are all charter schools great? Most definitely not. A Charter school is a public school run by a private entity and granted a Charter by the state. They can teach they way they want and can have better discipline. All require parental involvement – i.e. service hours. If you don’t behave you have to leave. We have 389 charter schools in our state with 100,000 students. Several have been closed down. Of course, some of that was because of bureaucratic problems or poor funding, but others were not good. Other Charter schools, however, are “A” schools and do very well. Our city runs a Charter school system, and one third of the kids in the city go to those schools. You can only get in by a lottery system.

The Charter school company that is taking over our school buildings has 14 schools already. They are very well respected “A” schools – very professionally done with excited and motivated administrators. Their mission statement is very similar to a Catholic school. In fact, most of the administrators were educated in Catholic schools. A friend of mine who teaches at one of our city-run charter schools says our new school is very good. But, of course, no religion can be taught there since it is a Public School. There is the difficulty I’ll address next time.