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Why Charter Schools are Billed as “Tuition Free”

Jerry Seinfeld

Charles Lussier is filling in for Linda Perlstein over at The Educated Reporter this week. Today’s rant is about the use of “tuition free” to describe charter schools. You can almost hear him channeling his inner-Seinfeld and asking the world, “So what’s the deal with tuition free?!?” Here we go:

“OK, Pet Peeve Time, readers of The Educated Reporter. Why is that so many charter schools in their promotional messages describe themselves as “tuition free”? I understand that people often are confused about what charter schools are or are not, but they are emphatically public schools, not private schools.”

That has nothing to do with the issue of why charter schools bill themselves as “tuition free.” He continues:

“At a recent meeting I attended where a new Baton Rouge charter school was selling itself, the school’s director used this “tuition free” phrase. He said he’d worked at private schools and public schools and that charter schools were in the middle, “the best of both worlds.” Now, I understand a bit of what he’s saying — they are open to everyone, but have more freedom than traditional public schools — but come on! These are public schools, no question. Yes, some raise private money on the side to supplement their budgets, but so do many traditional public schools.”

Again, that has nothing to do with the issue of why charter schools bill themselves as “tuition free.” The real whine:

“The best explanation for selling yourself in this way, to me, is to persuade parents interested in private schools, but who can’t afford them, that going to a charter school is equivalent to attending a private school and doing so for free! Charter schools, while given some freedom, still have loads of laws to abide by that put them in the same family as traditional public schools. To my mind, it’s purposely misleading.”

No, Charles. You’ve missed the point completely. Here’s what I wrote:

Charles,

This is not a hard question, and it sure isn’t a mystery.

This is a simple PR issue.

Many parents – especially parents of children who can benefit most from charter schools – don’t realize that “charter school” means “at no cost to you.” So, a school bills itself in promotional literature/advertisements as “tuition free” to let parents know that they won’t have to pay a tuition bill to have their child attend.

Yes, it is that simple. End of story.

Perhaps the EWA blog should be renamed to “Educate A Reporter.” This time the lesson was tuition free.

“Once they got over the shock, students got hooked on the attention and the sense of purpose”

Joanne Jacobs,

Greg Lippman and Jennifer Andaluz together provided the brains, muscle and elbow grease to found Downtown College Prep, the subject of Joanne Jacobs’ “Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea, and the School That Beat the Odds”. To get the ball rolling, they created a small summer institute that would establish and test the themes that would drive DCP. From page 25:

“To connect with potential students and parents and try out their ideas, Lippman and Andaluz organized Summer Bridge, a free skill-building program for underachieving middle schoolers. Lippman’s parents donated the money for the program; San Jose State provided classroom space. Middle school counselors in San Jose recommended students, mostly Hispanic, who were struggling in school.

Expecting the usual summer snooze, Bridge students found themselves sweating through reading and math skills in an academic boot camp with Lippman and Andaluz as their drill sergeants. But, once they got over the shock, students got hooked on the attention and the sense of purpose. Their parents wanted more. Bridge parents began meeting with Lippman and Andaluz to discuss a charter high school.”

They did that without a fat, taxpayer-driven bank account. Makes you wonder what a public school with a $27,000 per-pupil budget is capable of – and why were aren’t seeing it.

“The complete lack of sugarcoating may seem harsh to outsiders, but students seem to appreciate the honesty”

Joanne Jacobs,

Chapter 1 of Joanne Jacobs’ “Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea, and the School That Beat the Odds” introduces San Jose’s Downtown College Prep, a charter school serving mostly Mexican immigrant families. DCP takes underperformers and develops them to succeed at a 4-year college or university. From page 9:

“”At DCP [Downtown College Prep], low achievers aren’t told they’re doing well; they’re told they can do better, if they work hard. The school doesn’t boost self-esteem with empty praise. Instead, Lippman and his teachers encourage what is known as “efficacious thinking,” the belief that what a person does has an effect. If you study, you’ll do better on the test than if you goof off. Work hard in school, and you can get to college. You have control over your future. So, stop making excuses and get your act together. The complete lack of sugarcoating may seem harsh to outsiders, but students seem to appreciate the honesty.”

Kids are the best fraud detectors alive. Honesty shows love and sincere concern. It’s no wonder that students at DCP – or anywhere, for that matter – prefer respectful honesty as they develop.

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