Thursday, May 24, 2012

Nightmare Charter School Scenarios

The more I think about this charter school thing, the more my imagination runs wild.



Real Estate View. There is only one public school building in Seattle where a charter school can open. Every other school building in Seattle is either already occupied by a public school, planned for use by the District in BEX IV, or leased. The new law would only grant charter operators a right of first refusal to purchase or lease school district property, but that only matters if the District decides to sell or lease a property. The law would not empower CMOs to claim real estate from the District. The only space available is Magnolia. TT Minor, Webster, and Lake City are already leased. Genesee Hill, Fairmount Park, E C Hughes, Boren, Columbia, Van Asselt, John Marshall, Wilson-Pacific, and Cedar Park all figure in the BEX IV plan and will not be offered for lease. Schmitz Park, Boren, Columbia, Van Asselt, and John Marshall may become available down the road, as might Webster, but charter schools can't have them if the District decides not to sell or lease them. So I have to wonder: where could a charter school find space?


Conversion Idea. I had this thought that about 40% of Seattle's public schools could win the votes needed for conversion just by promising to switch to Singapore math. They would say that they would keep all of the beloved teachers on staff, keep the principal, keep the librarian and nurse. Basically they would maintain the status quo on just about everything except the math. They would replace Everyday Math with Singapore Math. Yep, that would cause about 40% of the schools to flip. I wonder if the threat of it alone would be enough to get the District to allow them to change the math at the school. Hmmm. Imagine every school demanding changes from the District and threatening to convert to a charter if the district doesn't allow it. Anarchy! Autonomy! A whole new mission for the central administration.


Tiny school by invitation. I don't see anything here that would prevent the creation of a really small charter school. Seriously, one with about fifteen students all in one grade with just one teacher. Imagine a group of pre-school parents who just want to keep it going. Every student in the school could be a child of a charter member with no other students. Just set the capacity of the school equal to the number of children of charter members. There's nothing in the initiative that requires the schools to be of a certain size. The school would have no costs other than the teacher and the materials. The funding would be enough to pay the teacher handsomely and get tablet computers (with access to eBooks) for all the kids. The school could meet at a family home. I'm serious. A group of pre-school parents could come together and form a school like this pretty easily.


Special Education. One of the rules for Washington Charter Schools is "A charter school may not limit admission on any basis other than age group, grade level, or capacity and must enroll all students who apply within these bases." That means that all Washington charter schools must enroll students with IEPs who apply and gain entry. Since the charters are not exempted from federal law, and specifically IDEA, they would have to serve any special education students who choose to enroll. I'm pretty sure this would crush them financially. Likewise, charter schools cannot deny admission to English Language Learners and must provide them with the legally required services as well. Again, this could crush them financially. This is something that public schools are not required to do. There are a lot of public schools that don't serve these students, but charter schools would have to. At least that's how I'm reading the law.


Public Forums. The law provides for a public hearing on every charter school application. Those hearings will be entertaining. I expect something like the testimony we see around the TFA contract.
"The application review process must include thorough evaluation of each application, an in-person interview with the applicant group, and an opportunity in a public forum, including, without limitation, parents, community members, local residents and school district board members and staff, to learn about and provide input on each application."
Real Estate/Conversion together. There is no good public school space for a charter, and private space is expensive. Moreover it's easy to win a conversion by promising only a single change - the math curriculum. Together these would suggest conversions are the way to go. Here's the kicker. A conversion school pays no rent:
"A conversion charter school as part of the consideration for providing educational services under the charter contract may continue to use its existing facility without paying rent to the school district that owns the facility.  The district remains responsible for major repairs and safety upgrades that may be required for the continued use of the facility as a public school."
It's pretty clear that any charter operator who comes to town would much prefer to engineer a conversion than open a new school. The real estate considerations alone make it a far better choice.

35 comments:

ben said...

I'm not really for charter schools but the thought of ditching EDM would almost be enough to flip me.
Ben

Louise said...

I just keep wondering that if this passes, how long will it take before some charter company finds some way to turn Rainier Beach into a charter school. Or opens a charter in the building along side the regular high school.

Athame said...

No rent and free maintenance? Wait, what?

School district income, roughly:
50% State (mostly on a per-student basis)
25% Local Levy (mostly not affected by enrollment)
13% Federal (variety of programs mostly on some form of per-student basis)
12% various (rental income, various private grants, etc, etc)

Which of those income streams follows the student to a charter school? If just the State money, that's a pretty lean budget for the charter schools to try to run on. But if its everything, the district will go bankrupt maintaining buildings while getting no money for the students in them.

Anonymous said...

@ Louise. What do you mean "some charter company?" Look what our very own octopus-legged LEV is doing right now. Absorbed the Sloane Foundation and is now the grantor to South Shore. They also made a play for RBHS in the charter war of last year, with a mailer that pissed off the community, if I remember right, hinting that it was the perfect place to put a charter. That was the mailer with Pettigrew's face on it. Just because it flopped once doesn't mean they don't have designs on the space, skeptics think.

"Some Charter Company" indeed. Not for nothing are LEV's Kris Korsmo and Kelly Munn front and center on the state charter push. What's good for charters is great for LEV's expansion.

Charter Naysayer

TechyMom said...

Why is the tiny school a nightmare? IMHO, homegrown niche options like this are the promise of charter schools. Franchised factories of conformance are the risk, and this charter bill seems intended to bring those in.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, they don't have to be in a school building. They can use any space and most do. But they like to be able to take over a school building.

Also, charters have many techniques for getting rid of Special Ed students. One they really like is waiting until the last minute so they pressure the student out AND get to keep their funding so the student goes back to the district with virtually no funding.

Charters students have the state money attached to them; some might have federal dollars depending on their status.

If the charter comes into being and a levy is passed, they get part of the levy money. If they come into a district after a levy, they don't get that levy money.

The point is you could get every kind of charter - anyone can apply and if they don't have enough charters serving high needs kids, they can charter anyone who they approve.

Charlie Mas said...

"Nightmare" probably isn't the right word.

The initiative allows for eight schools a year for five years. I don't think that there is any interest for creating charter schools outside Seattle and, maybe, Tacoma. Honestly. Although the push for them is coming from the Eastside, I don't think anyone on the Eastside, including those who are pushing for them, really wants one there.

So there may not be eight applications, especially after the excitement wears off.

In that case, I could definitely see a group of pre-school families deciding to form a one-grade charter. They would get about $5,000 per student from the state (and local levy). With 15 kids that would be about $75,000. Say they spend $60,000 on the teacher (salary and benefits). That leaves $15,000 for materials. If they buy tablet computers and use open source textbooks, they could do it.

It would put a lot of pressure on the teacher - limited PCP time, no collaboration with peers, can't be out sick much - but they would really get to know their students, they would have a small class size, there would be a ton of parent support in the classroom, and there would be a lot of autonomy. Someone would take that job.

Sahila said...

A report released last month by a team of Minnesota researchers concludes that New Orleans public schools continue to be racially segregated after Hurricane Katrina, with African-American students funneled into "schools of last resort" and the few white students mostly attending selective charter schools.

Charter schools resegregate New Orleans


note: Tulane University's Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives is Mississippi's version of UW's Centre for Reinventing Education

Eric B said...

On the real estate side, the school will get space wherever they can. A small storefront or office space near a park could easily serve the micro charter school. I do think that the functional minimum size would be two or three classrooms of 20 or so students. The exception would be if the school was in a home. The one charter school I'm familiar with (in Idaho) took over an office building and renovated it, then later on added on to the building to increase the size.

On the conversion, the first time I talked about charters to my kids, my younger kid lit up and said "You mean we could get real math!? What a great idea!" 40% might be a lowball number. It's not just math, though. Theoretically, a group of teachers could form a charter organization and form a school, then set their own salaries as the charter board. Leads to a few possible conflicts of interest...

The funding scenario for conversion charters looks like a plan to break the school districts' finances. If the charter gets all the state money, and a portion of any followon levy money, there's nothing left for the District to use for major upgrades or maintenance. What happens when the boiler dies?

Eric B said...

On the real estate side, the school will get space wherever they can. A small storefront or office space near a park could easily serve the micro charter school. I do think that the functional minimum size would be two or three classrooms of 20 or so students. The exception would be if the school was in a home. The one charter school I'm familiar with (in Idaho) took over an office building and renovated it, then later on added on to the building to increase the size.

On the conversion, the first time I talked about charters to my kids, my younger kid lit up and said "You mean we could get real math!? What a great idea!" 40% might be a lowball number. It's not just math, though. Theoretically, a group of teachers could form a charter organization and form a school, then set their own salaries as the charter board. Leads to a few possible conflicts of interest...

The funding scenario for conversion charters looks like a plan to break the school districts' finances. If the charter gets all the state money, and a portion of any followon levy money, there's nothing left for the District to use for major upgrades or maintenance. What happens when the boiler dies?

Anonymous said...

Charlie: Break it down, brother. Very interesting.

TechyMom: I agree, I like the potential for tiny schools. We need them. Kindergarten especially is almost on the verge of being an under-funded mandate and yet it can't be one size fits all Pre-K and Kinders. What I see from Charlie's read of the bill is that 1) the state PTA is shooting itself in the head and letting the magic bullet hit some schools after it's exit and 2) this bill can provide some fiendishly brilliant ways to change what's wrong with many SPS schools, a big easy button, and/or 3) put SPS in a knife fight for it's future and former friends and long-standing foes alike.

Charters = bloodbath. More competition the likes of which we haven't seen in WA. You have teachers who honestly care about their schools and students. Are they going to be in the middle or will many of them tell their union to drop dead and take over some schools? This option has promise and would be notably subversive because I don't think the bill's sponsor is all about teacher power.

Teachers who want to protect their schools will be up against the real beneficiaries of this bill, the charter companies.

Based on their stupid decisions and long-standing corruption, how many of us will cry over SPS falling apart? The only concern is the students. How much more instability must they endure? SPS makes it's own care: who wants to give them more money with their track record. It's all about performance, of teachers and students, everyone except the people at the top. This isn't negative. It's a fiscal fact.

I want Mr Banda to be refreshingly different. I want him to succeed where others have failed and be the Wild Card in this scenario, but what if he isn't? Do we want to pay an even bigger paycheck for another bad sup? Do we want to keep paying thousands for the ineffective redundancies of Executive Directors? One ought to do it. Enough with the interns in disguise. You see where I'm going. It would be very easy for any booster or parasite-org to turn on their host, SPS.

Mr White

Dorothy Neville said...

Athame, Levies are based on enrollment. Levy dollars are a percent of state apportionment, a year out of date. So there's a lag in adjusting for enrollment, but levies are tied to enrollment.

Tiny schools may be wonderful, but the scenario Charlie is describing is a boutique school with no worries of ELL of Special Ed (because of capacity) and very much an exclusive private school experience using taxpayer dollars.

Anonymous said...

Eric "The funding scenario for conversion charters looks like a plan to break the school districts' finances. If the charter gets all the state money, and a portion of any followon levy money, there's nothing left for the District to use for major upgrades or maintenance. What happens when the boiler dies?"

Exactly. Quite the Trojan Horse. This is make it or break it time. SPS gets its act together under Banda, with solid support from people who aren't the Usual Boosters who have made noise about supporting charters (Gates, LEV, the whole cabal) or it's the beginning of the end. SPS has to show new leadership and competency or they're finished. This was always the prediction before Dr Maria. This one works out or it's takeover time. The City or charters, but SPS as we know it is gone. Lots to think about on how to respond to this bill.

Mr White

Anonymous said...

Dorthy, what if the potential tiny school can take those dollars and more effectively meet needs of special needs students in addition to being a good alternative for students who aren't finding success in a regular school. I know AZ is an example to look to for the good and the bad. The charter legislation they passed in the early 1990s was a boon for charter companies but a few independent schools bloomed because of it. They still have a public system in place but certainly the bill was as much a political gift as it was "for the kids."

Mr White

Anonymous said...

Jumping ship to get good math is going to happen: families want it done now and they are tired of spending dollars on Kumon or other tutoring... The district says it can't do a math textual materials adoption cycle because they have no money. But if they don't, and the charter bill passes-- the District may not have to worry about it because students will be gone, off to greener pastures, with Singapore Math and no investigatory math in High school!
--signed give all of us Singapore NOW

Melissa Westbrook said...

"So there may not be eight applications, especially after the excitement wears off."

Will never happen. I guarantee it. They will fill 8 a year and have plenty to pick from.

"Based on their stupid decisions and long-standing corruption, how many of us will cry over SPS falling apart? The only concern is the students. How much more instability must they endure?"

Excellent point and blood bath would be the right term.

Anonymous said...

While visiting families and friends in Hawaii this past year, we met some charter school parents. The charter school was doing some fundraising and with kids in tow, we hung around the park to let our kids play with the school kids. My friends and I had an enlightening discussion with the parents of this tiny charter school.

The charter school was a parent run endeavor and started with K-3 initially until it has expanded as kids got older to 8th grade. The school is small, less than 200 kids. The oldest kids are now in 8th grade and the school has been having growing pains mainly because they wanted to keep it small and they have a hard time attracting teachers qualified in multiple subjects to teach the higher grades. I didn't get the impression this was a school that had much in terms of spec ed or ELL issue.

The parents wanted a charter that were high performing, small class size, and can offer an integrated montessori like curriculum. Many of the parents we met were moms and they were either stay at home or part timers. The school required a LOT of parental involvement. Parents did much of the maintenance, janitorial duties and had year round fundraising to purchase computers, build an amazing library, beef up the science program, and to offer their kids music, arts, and multi-day fieldtrips. It was pretty impressive.

So charter schools have the potential to appeal to small groupswho want a certain kind of education for their kids. I don't know if that is the plan for charters here in Washington State. The language seems to offer that possiblity.

I also agree to the concern as to how many small "boutique" charter schools can we afford and administer. We can't fund the common basic standardized schools fully as it is. To start offering specialized schools for like minded folks just seem to invite hugh bureaucracy, pitting parents groups against other parents or even teachers and eat up education funding just to monitor all these small charters.

I don't hear the nitty gritty stuff discussed on the airwaves or in print by supporters. That worries me. This would be important to voters like me to hear how they proposed to reconcile issues like conversion schools or shared facilities or if parents trigger, what is the requirement so that it's legitimate and fair? Can it be parents from all over the district getting together to propose a charter school and looking to convert or share space with existent facility or open shuttered SPS school. Will the district provided funding to cover the opening of the new school and if it's a shuttered one, will the district do the required work to open it up for a charter?

Nitty gritty stuff, but they are things that for a planner like me want answers to first before deciding whether I can support charters. In the end, I agree it can't be just be about what's good for me and my kids.

-want more answers

Anonymous said...

Great points Mr. White. Esp (3) above... SPS is walking the plank, being led by its buddies SFC, LEV, Gates, AFE, but I bet when we get to the end of the plank and charters pass, the buddies will run back and start sawing off that plank as quickly as possible, abandoning what's left of SPS to fall/jump and taking the money to the bank.

The math thing bothers me. I can really see people getting behind that in Seattle... any port in the EM storm. Ugh.

-sps mom

Charlie Mas said...

Oh! Here's another one:

Imagine a group of families that want to form a new alternative school - say everyone on the TOPS waitlist. Now imagine that they organize, all request assignment to a small, under-subscribed school (I'm looking at you, Madrona), get assigned there, and then convert it. It would not be hard for a group of people to organize and request assignment to Rainier Beach High School with the specific intention of forming a majority in the school and converting it.

Patrick said...

I'd like them to use real math. However, I think it might be expecting too much for switching to Singapore Math by itself to make an enormous difference. How about some 1 on 1 tutoring as soon as a student starts to fall behind? How about ending social promotion, or separating level in math from grade level?

Of course in a charter school only motivated families will sign up, so their numbers would probably look great...

I really hate the idea that the parents of 10 kids could get together and call themselves a school and meet in someone's living room and collect $50,000 a year for it. The expectation could be that each family contributes another $1000, they rarely or never admit anyone else, and they've got their own state-supported private school. Fundamentalist parents could make sure their kids never hear about evolution or geology, racist parents could make sure their kids never go to school with a kid of a different race. Public school is about creating a shared culture, not just education.

One reason the troubles in Northern Ireland got so bad is that the Catholic children went to Catholic school and never mixed with the Protestant children who went to state schools.

Anonymous said...

So as Charlie explains it, a school like Lake Washington Girls Middle School—that was developed by a group of Parents—could qualify as a charter under this system and come with a substantial amount of state funds. LWGMS had, until just recently, only 16 students per grade level and operated out of a church for the first few years. Then parents could do the same amount of fundraising they do now to augment the school's operating budget? The use of those dollars are somewhat restricted in public schools now. Could they be used for any and everything as a Charter?

Even though we switched to private school for middle and high school, I am against public funding for anything that even comes close to being a private school. Public is public. I see too much room for abuse here.

Solvay Girl

Melissa Westbrook said...

Solvay, yes the state money follows the student (depending on where you check between $6400-6900) and you can use the fundraising dollars for almost anything. I'm sure they have to use reporting guidelines but they certainly won't have restrictions that district schools.

I appreciate that the heat is on for Banda. But he may just get here and have the ton of work he has to do and the election will be on him. That's scant time to make a difference. If charters come, then his job becomes that much more complicated.

Anonymous said...

sps mom: "SPS is walking the plank, being led by its buddies SFC, LEV, Gates, AFE, but I bet when we get to the end of the plank and charters pass, the buddies will run back and start sawing off that plank as quickly as possible, abandoning what's left of SPS to fall/jump and taking the money to the bank."

This is a real possibility. Charters aren't designed to make public schools stronger.

Patrick: Yes, and I think you can extend this to the trend toward re-segregation in schools. It's a national trend and charters might be playing a role. I'm not sure this is true but many proponents say that charters will bring competition that forces all schools to improve or die. The paradox of charters is that you might weaken or replace public schools with more of the same. It depends on who gets the charter.

Mr White

Charlie Mas said...

This is my point.

If I were responsible for the campaign - on either side - I would start thinking of the various ways that this initiative could be abused by smart cookies who can work a system. Then I would either make that an element of my campaign or I would be sure to guard against it.

The nearly private boutique schools designed to serve - exclusively - a tight, small group of families, could become an issue in the campaign. How could the commission deny their application?

The total collapse of the New Student Assignment Plan if even a single Seattle attendance area school is converted could become an issue in the campaign. Seriously, what if Bryant were converted? And what if they then cut enrollment to what would actually fit with 22 students per classroom? It would flood the neighboring schools. They might then be tempted to convert to manage their enrollment.

The potential use of the parent trigger by an outside group could become an issue. There are only 365 students at Rainier Beach High School. How hard would it be to find 300 students who would sign up there so it can be converted? I'm pretty sure that at least 35 current students' families could also be convinced to vote for the conversion. The enrollment at Madrona is 327. How many people on the TOPS waitlist? And not just this year, but last year and the year before. And not just at kindergarten but at every grade. Hmmm.

And yes, the potential to use the parent trigger or the teacher trigger as a threat to demand concessions from the District could become an issue in the campaign. People should either be ready to use it to defend against it.

word said...

"-want more answers" described almost to a tee what the SPS elementary schools that we toured 5 years ago resembled. The school choice allowance made the individual elementary schools a variety of different flavors that appealed to and worked for different families. Furthermore, widespread Spectrum and ALO enabled advanced learning where needed.

It is amazing how fast this all ended. At our elementary school, Spectrum was dropped and our specialized math program placed under attack by the administration. The loss of parental involvement and interest (and dollars) has been precipitous.

This all occurred because the central district wanted to homogenize all the elementary schools and make the curriculum identical at each. To do this and THEN promote charter schools is wasteful. We had a very unique and interesting system when my kids entered public school 5 years ago. The district actively stirred the pot to make all the schools "lukewarm" instead of heating up the weaker schools.

Innovative instruction can be achieved within the public school system if only the administration were not so afraid of parent/teacher input.

Eric B said...

In the old bill (I haven't read the initiative yet), the conversion language required that the school accommodate all of the students who currently go to that school. Whether you would still have to accommodate the same total number if some of the original children decided to leave is an interesting question. It also leaves open the possibility of a boutique high school at RBHS. Without rent, you could rationally have class sizes of around 20 kids.

Anonymous said...

word, what you describe is what happened in Seattle under Maria Goodloe-Johnson. Everything she's done, wrecking successful schools and making promises to schools that improved then closed them, forcing fidelity to one set of materials with the MAP cherry on top (which she steered when she was on the NWEA board with DeBell's approval). Today she's Detroit's deputy chancellor and charters are replacing select schools.

Laying groundwork. That's what her term in Seattle was about if you follow the Broad Superintendents Academy alumni.

Mr White "I'm not negative"

Athame said...

Dorothy, can you clarify on local levy being tied to enrollment?

My understanding was that the school district proposes an operations level with a dollar amount attached to it -- isn't $750 million or therabouts being tossed around? And the King County Assessor then works out what property tax rate is required to reach that number (subject to a state limit that the rate can't be higher than 0.X percent). And then if it passes, SPS gets that money. How does changing enrollment affect how much local level money SPS gets? Other than Charlie saying that Seattle-area charters may or may not be entitled to some share of it?

Maureen said...

How explicit was the proposed bill about religion? I've heard it said that part of the reason RBHS isn't full is that many local residents send their kids to religious school. Could that community enroll a couple of hundred kids at RBHS and then apply for a Jewish culture charter school? (I'm assuming that actual religion classes would have to be outside of school hours.) Add in Muslim and Christian culture schools and we could end up with several SPS buildings full of kids who have never been enrolled in public school and no capacity for the currently enrolled.

The parent/staff trigger point is 50% right? There are some schools I could imagine the parents and staff warring over competing conversion plans.

Jan said...

Something I read some time ago (I think it might have been by Diane Ravitch, but maybe not) talked about the impression that spending time in Pakistan had had on the writer -- a place where there is NOT good universal education, so parents send children off to (Taliban-funded) madressas -- where they learn to be good little Islamacists -- and you wind up with a country where there is no common culture -- just a bunch of little, distrustful, bigoted islands of inbred prejudices. I happen to love homeschooling -- but am aware (from looking for home schooling materials) that there are a number of kids out there who grow up with absolutely no exposure, ever, to evolution, environmental issues, civics or government instruction that is not predicated on the US having been "chosen" by God because his original chosen people blew it, etc. etc. etc. Historically, public schools have been the place that kids go to learn a common history (maybe there are quibbles about what, and how, things are taught -- but it's a heck of a lot more "common" than what the far religious homeschooling right teaches its kids). I don't want to abolish people's right to choice in education (I homeschooled a little, and fervently believe in homeschooling (including unschooling)-- but if we ever lose the ability to teach our kids our common political, philosophical culture, we will have lost something that I think lies at the heart of our country's ability to survive.

Dorothy Neville said...

Operations Levy 101:

While the wording on the levy on the ballot makes it look like there is a specific amount that the voters approve and the district gets, that's not how the operating levy works. What is really happening is that the legislature has given districts the authority to ask for a levy and the amount is limited to a specific percent of state funding (which is apportionment and tied directly to enrollment). I think the general levy lid is something small, like 20% or thereabouts, but some districts are grandfathered in and allowed to ask for more. SPS has a levy lid of 35% (or thereabouts, you can find out exact figures by looking at the OSPI website or perhaps the district website). So what the voters approve is a maximum amount that the district can get. The actual maximum is the lesser of the two of the voter approved number and 35% of the state funding for the previous year. Seattle School district asks for an amount in excess of the amount it could legally get. Therefore the limiting factor is the levy lid.

The Supplemental levy looks like it was asking for a specific amount, but what it really was doing was increasing the ceiling so that SPS could take full advantage of the temporary increase of the levy lid from 35% to 39% (again, not sure of exact figures). If my calculations are correct, in 2010-11 school year we received 4 million dollars attributable to the supplemental levy. I have used that figure in conversations with Harmon and he has not contradicted it, but I don't know if he would say its accurate. I will get that clarified.

Once a year there is a resolution certifying the levy amount. There is a complex formula that is used to determine just how much the district is eligible to ask, mostly it is apportionment, but some jiggering based on out of district students in Seattle and Seattle residents going out of district, among other things. This is typically less than what the voters have authorized. But that's all they get.

So the amount they are allowed to collect for the operating levy is tied closely to the apportionment of the previous year. Therefore the levy lag, where the levy amount does not go up or down immediately with changing in enrollment, but lags a year behind.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Maureen makes a good point.

Google Minneapolis and charter schools and you'll see many charters based on a specific culture. It's a pretty slippery slope to throwing in some background on religion.

Eric B said...

Further to the religion issue, the legislative text allowed charters to hold classes in community buildings such as churches. This makes a lot of sense in a space utilization sense, since schools and churches tend to be active at different times. However, it does leave open the possibility of a soft religious school, where they teach "moral values" and "character development" according to a certain religious code, encourage kids to "learn about religion," etc.

Anonymous said...

With regards to the comments about the charter schools including religious content, I'm very tired of SPS teachers and administrators ignoring family values and beliefs. I've been privy to a number of situations where teachers deride beliefs other than their own atheism. Also, administrators and teachers seem to routinely ignore that all parents may not agree with their whatever-makes-you-feel-good sexual teaching among adolescents.

Compared with that, what is the problem with religious values and/or teaching in charter schools - freely chosen by parents?

Mom of 2

Charlie Mas said...

Thank you, Mom of 2, for your comment. I know just what you mean. It can be discouraging when you try to share your family's values with your child and those values are questioned, challenged, and tested, not only by peers at school, but by the teachers as well. It can be more than discouraging.

To some extent, legitimately, teachers should encourage students to build and use their critical reasoning skills. This focus is soon turned on our own unquestioned presumptions, including our values. This is inevitable and, ultimately, positive. Personal challenge is an integral part of intellectual rigor. But I think there is a line which should not be crossed. There are a number of areas that should not be pressed.

These are children - even the older ones - and they don't yet have all of the tools needed to withstand pressure. Moreover, the authority which teachers carry creates an imbalanced field that puts the child at a disadvantage.

We want our children to have beliefs, to be secure in those beliefs, and to be able to withstand challenges to those beliefs, but it doesn't help to put them out of their depth before they are ready.

One of those beliefs, one that may not be able to withstand much critical review, is the American idea of separation of church and state. The first amendment's prohibition against the government's establishment of a religion has been interpreted by Courts as precluding any religious instruction or sectarian activity funded by tax dollars. That's why religious teaching would not be permitted in a public school - not even a charter.

I, for one, really wish that the school district breakfasts did not all include pork products. Would it be so impossible for them to make them halal by using turkey sausage?