From the halls of Congress to the Oval Office and from coast to coast, it was clear that just about everyone was getting into the celebration of National Charter Schools Week. Last week's celebration got things going with President Obama’s proclamation expressing support for charter schools and their valuable contribution to education and culminated with an overwhelming vote of confidence by the House of Representatives to increase funding for charter schools to tune of 300 million dollars

Why the support? To help understand this, it's important to remember that charter schools are public schools. In other words, charter schools are publicly funded institutions by taxpayers like you. They are not private schools and must, by law, be open to all students.

Charter schools have been around for over twenty years and grew out of a response to foster innovation and flexibility in our country’s public education system. Because charter schools are independent, they are free to operate without having to comply with many of the guidelines governing most public schools. This has allowed charter schools to experiment with things like lengthening the school day to instituting dress codes.

This innovation has allowed educators and school administrators to teach in their classrooms in ways that would have been difficult, if not impossible, in the traditional public school system.

And as it turns out, public charter schools are a big hit. So much so that the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a non-profit committed to advancing the public charter school movement, estimates that there are over 1 million students names on public charter school wait lists. In two of our country’s biggest states, there are over 150,000 students waiting to attend charter schools in California and New York.

Word has gotten out that many in the more than 2.5 million students enrolled in over 6,500 charter schools are excelling academically. There are many studies confirming this including a study by Stanford in 2013 that found that charter school students were outperforming their public school counterparts in 25 states, including New York City and Washington, D.C., in reading.

In short, there is not enough supply for the demand. This was the point of a graphic we posted to Facebook last week:

 

And yet, charter schools are not without critics. Some contend that some charter schools are ineffective. But as the President’s own proclamation makes clear: “Those that do not measure up can be shut down. And those that are successful can provide effective approaches for the broader public education system.”

In short: charter schools help kids succeed while instilling some healthy competition into our education system. And at a time when innovation, and even competition, is nearly unanimously celebrated in other industries like say telecommunications, Hollywood and air-travel, National Charter Schools Week is a reminder of the positive disruption that is happening in education.

That competition, and the success that comes from it, is on display every year, during a different weeklong celebration: National School Choice Week. This January, more than 5,200 schools celebrated their successes during the Week, with schools of all types (including 1,000+ public charter schools) taking the time to recognize the parents who have actively chosen the schools that work best for their children.

And if that were not reason enough to celebrate National Charter Schools Week, then consider the fact that support for charter schools runs the political ideological spectrum. And at a time when it seems like we can’t agree on anything, supporting charter schools – and in fact, a variety of educational choices for families – is bringing together people and groups that normally don’t see eye to eye on many issues.

It's becoming increasingly clear that far from being a political issue, supporting charter schools is just common sense.

Israel Ortega is the Media Relations Director of National School Choice Week. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega


 

Like many residents in the borough of Queens in the late-1980s, I was an immigrant living in a new country trying my best to learn the English language in order to fit in. This is especially difficult when you're in elementary school and eager to make friends.

My parents emigrated from Mexico so that my sister and I could have advantages and opportunities that they could only dream of. From an early age, they instilled in us a hard work ethic and reminded us daily on the importance of education.

This is easier said than done when you're scared, intimidated and convinced that you are the worst student in the classroom. And if that wasn't difficult enough, the only adults you can confide in – your parents - can hardly help you with your homework because they too, lack a strong command of the English language. They want to help, but cannot.

But it's here where an army of unsung heroes work their magic every single day in classrooms across our country. They are known as Ms. Smith, Mr. Jones and now more often, Mr. Perez and Ms. Lopez. But to the rest of us, they are teachers and educators. They work long hours and seldom receive the praise they deserve.

Two teachers stand out for me. The first was Ms. Roberts – my third grade teacher in a public school in Corona, Queens. Like many teachers, Ms. Roberts almost intuitively realized that she had to spend more time with me than my peers. She was patient and kind. Ms. Roberts taught me that making mistakes in school was OK, because that's how we can learn to get it right the next time.

The change was almost immediate. My fear began to give way to interest and even excitement at the prospect of learning about new and interesting things.

And although my outlook and my attitude had improved, by the time I got to the 6th grade, it was still evident that I still needed help. This is where Ms. Ferlazzo stepped in and doted on me the importance of penmanship and reading comprehension. She could be tough and firm, but it was only because she must have known that it was important that I actually registered what she was communicating.

It's likely that all of us have our Ms. Roberts' and Ms. Ferlazzo's. They are the teachers that stand out in our memories that encouraged us when we need encouraging. Or the ones that provided a crying shoulder when we felt despair.

For many Hispanics living in New York City and other big cities across the country, teachers are almost second parents. Many go out of their way to help students and parents that feel lost in a new country as immigrants. They work extra hours and sometimes dig into their own pockets to pay for school supplies or treats for their students. They teach students on empty stomachs from difficult families.

And for all of this, they are hardly recognized in the way they should.

But for one week in the year, we honor teachers everywhere. This week, from coast to coast, we celebrate educators everywhere in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

There are many ways to celebrate, but a heartfelt thank you is tough to beat.

As a team member of National School Choice Week, it's wonderful to know that I belong to the world's largest annual celebration of educational opportunity where teachers are valued so that we can provide every student with a great education.

To all the Ms. Roberts and Ms. Ferlazzo's out there, thank you!

Israel Ortega is the Media Relations Director for National School Choice Week. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrteg