In the latest installment of “The Awesome Column,” TIME magazine’s Joel Stein explains why he’s joining a growing number of parents in pursuing alternative to traditional public schools.

Unfortunately, the public school in my area isn’t great, since my area is in America. So I started visiting charter schools, which don’t have to follow the same rules as the rest of the district. The other founding parents and the professionals who’d run our new school were incredible: They knew a lot about pedagogy, local politics and finances. They raised money and recruited great teachers, and many, like us, were invested in the school years before their kids would attend.

I had been involved in education reform since 1989, my senior year of high school, when my friend Jay Brown figured out that we could do anything if it ostensibly supported the teachers’ union against the board of ed, so we got all the kids to go “on strike” by leaving school in the middle of the day. …

… I learned things that surprised me: 80% of the kids in the Los Angeles unified school district get free or reduced-price lunches, and 91% of them are nonwhite. Which means that either I know every white person in L.A. or nearly every white person in L.A. somehow sends their kids to private school. I also learned a few things I wasn’t told directly: charter schools set their own class sizes, create their own lunch programs, offer arts classes, focus on project-based learning and don’t waste all their class time teaching to a state test. But the real difference is that they don’t have to be unionized–which means they can fire teachers who, as shown in Won’t Back Down, have lost their passion for teaching. The only organization besides public schools that can’t fire people for incompetence is an extended family, and there’s no way I’d leave my kid alone with one of them for eight hours a day anyway.