Many individuals, including former Premier Danny Williams, have spoken out against Corner Brook businessman Bill Barry after he announced his campaign for leader of the provincial Progressive Conservatives. Primarily, this reaction was caused by Barry’s suggestion to increase the role of private firms in many elements of the public sector, including education and health care. While this has caused substantial debate about the implications of such actions, the discussion has ignored one model that could actually offer some positive change to the way in which education is delivered in the province: charter schools.
For those unaware, a charter school is an institute that is publicly funded and privately operated. This provides schools an additional level of autonomy, as they are not responsible to local school districts, but are instead held accountable to the provincial Minister of Education. As a result, charter schools can provide alternative education methods which can better enhance a student’s ability to learn, and, as well, can later be implemented into the public system. In a time where school board mismanagement of public funds has made a mockery of our education system, and students are overwhelmingly unprepared for post-secondary education, it is perhaps in the best interest to review the implementation of these institutes and measure the potential benefits for society.
The best model to consider adapting would be the system currently operating in Alberta, where they have capped the number of charter schools to 15. While the core operations of many of these schools are different, they all are forced to share a set number of core characteristics to be eligible to operate. Notably, these includes ensuring that all charter schools are open to all students, are secular, have no tuition fees, and are still structured around a basic core curriculum as outlined by the provincial Department of Education. The success of the Alberta model has been plentiful, as we have seen these schools provide clear educational vision for students, and often be able to satisfy a niche in a system that would otherwise be left unresolved. If we could repeat some of the benefits, why would we not follow through with such policy?
The implementation of such schools would indeed be a contentious one. This is a nightmare for some teachers, as charter schools could hire (and as well, fire) teachers based upon their own conditions, rather than have hiring procedures based on seniority or other attributes as defined by a particular district. However, is this really a good enough excuse to ignore the potential benefits from implementing these schools? We are in no shortage of teachers within the province, and we should ultimately prefer to have the best of these teachers educating our young people and preparing them for their future. As a result, while some concerns should be heard from executives within the current system, we should not use this noise to deter the implementation of—or at least increase the research for—this policy.