Monday, July 27, 2009

NYT Article on Charter Schools


I saw this about charter schools starting to organize and thought many of you would find it interesting reading.



Megan Mc said...

Here is an interesting article about how Minnesota is looking at site-based school control as an alternative to charters in the state. Minneapolis will be the first district to implement it.


I wonder if they will look at Seattle as a successful or failed example.

Sahila said...

I am sickened by Obama's push towards charters and standardisation...

This man who prides himself on the fact that he beat the odds, seems incapable of recognising the logical fact that his achievement is actually an aberration, that the odds are stacked against millions of other kids simply because of the pyramid structure we operate under, educationally, economically and societally...

Its not true that all kids have the same opportunities, talents, and skills and that if we only push them (and their teachers) harder, they'll all come out at the same place, at the same time, with virtually the same results (oh, and at the minimal cost possible - mustn't forget that piece of the equation)...

And, given what we know now about learning and the factors influencing that process, its immoral and dishonest for the leader of this country to espouse this direction forward as the best means to achieve better educational outcomes for all our children.

Obama is not advocating for our kids - he's sold out to big business... Tell me how senior executives of failed AIG, for example, have any credibility to advise on education principles and policies (Broad Foundation)? Tell me how a billionaire who made his money by creating a monolithic monopoly on the backs of other peoples' work has the credibility to influence public school education across the country (Gates)? Tell me how a professional basketballer who has no education-related training or credentials, who has never taught in a class room, who laid waste to the Chicago public school system and actually saw lower socio-economic testing rates plummet during his tenure there, has the credibility to advise the president on closing the achievement gap and the course public education should take (Arne Duncan)?

"Money, money, money, its a rich man's world.... aha... all the things I could do, if I had a little money, honey, in a rich man's world... "

ParentofThree said...

I am a huge Obama supporter and am very glad he is in office right now instead of McCain/Palin, but the President and I part ways when it comes to education "reform."

Melissa Westbrook said...

I agree SPS Mom and isn't that ironic? You work hard to get someone elected and the one thing that matters to you that elected official doesn't see in the same way. I wonder if his kids were older and been through school if he would feel the same way.

Michael Rice said...

Ms. Westbrook writes: I wonder if his kids were older and been through school if he would feel the same way.

Well, not to rip on President Obama (I voted for him also), but his daughters are going to be spending at least 4 years (and maybe 8) in a private school that has none of the isuues or concerns that public school parents have. I don't know where his daughters went before moving to DC, but I would be surpised if his childern ever spent a day in a public school.

This is not to berate him for his choice of school for his childern, this is just a comment that I doubt that the President has any idea what it is like on the front lines.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Oh Michael, I feel that way about Bill Gates. His kids will never see public school (and I get why) but it's funny to have people who don't have their own kids in public school but think they have all the answers.

Josh Hayes said...

To be fair to Mr. Obama and his kids, can you imagine how difficult it would be to organize security for the children of POTUS at a regular ol' public school (or two, since IIRC we have one in K-5 and the other in 6-8 and I'm just too damn lazy to look it up)? Nightmare.

I'm stubborn about charter schools, however: I really don't see what they can do that an existing public school can't do, except be let out of a variety of requirements (don't need to hire union teachers - yes, I read the article, I know that unions are making inroads in charters - don't need to accept all comers, and so on). Alternative schools can provide every single thing a charter school provides, and I have never heard anyone able to articulate why that's not true. Since I've made this argument with teachers, with administrators, with school board members and wannabee school board members, I'm going to go on record as saying there's nothing a charter can provide that an alternative can't.

Anyone who thinks the traditional model school works for all the kids is crazy. But that doesn't mean that we need gussied-up private schools on the public payroll.

owlhouse said...

I could not be more disappointed in Obama on education. I know Duncan had his time as CEO in Chicago, but in no way do I think that qualifies him for the position of Sec of Ed. Can you imagine a surgeon general who had never been a doctor?

All this business-minded thinking is generating solutions along the lines of competition, closing failing schools, data collection, imporved tests, instructors who are either experts in their fields or just young and enthusiastic- but not teachers... So what happens to the losers of the competition? What happens when kids lose the stability of their school? What do we learn from data that can be collected and interpreted a hundred ways? What happens when a biologist with no teaching experience can't help a middle school student manage a family conflict or give comprehensive feedback on student work?

And for some current real life charter school examples- What happens when classroom money is redirected to decorating administrative offices or buying company cars? What happens when a gay student is continually bullied, eventually taking his own life? What happens when teachers are abusive to students and parents chastised for raising concerns? What happens when for profit companies seek venture capitol to create, market and test curricula entering into multi-year contracts with schools? What happens when 90% of all staff are removed from a school? When happens when court orders for financial, staff or student records are denied, shuffled into private "business sensitive" structures and not available for review? What happens when low performing students are de-enrolled from their schools?

I acknowledge a host of faults with our public system, including many of the above. Still, it's public- and as such, intended to serve ALL students, for the good of our society. And, in my opinion, the society's interests are not limited to creating a global work force.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think the realities of education are coming to bear on charters. Teachers are not liking longer hours for less pay. I would bet that the migration of teachers in charters is pretty high.

Dorothy Neville said...

It has always seemed to me that the one main beneficial thing charters can do that regular schools or alternative schools cannot do is have a longer year and a longer day. Josh, our alternatives have exactly the same hours per year that other schools have, yes? So that is one big difference between charters and alternatives.

Not that I am in favor of charters, I am uncomfortable with them, especially for reasons mentioned by owlhouse. But I have always been attracted by the more hours per year aspect of charters.

I am disappointed in Obama and Duncan and such. But I can also see why the attraction. Obama isn't an education expert. How could he be? The rhetoric in favor of charter schools is compelling for someone who is intelligent, thinks rationally, but does not know education well and does not get clear rational rhetoric from the opposition. We all know education needs big change. Charters look like they could provide that where public schools have failed. I don't have hope that they will, but I can see why some people would think so.

TechyMom said...

It seems that charters are the trend, and that complaining about it is unlikley to be effective.

So, are there ways that the Charter structure could be used to strengthen what we like about our alternative schools in Seattle, while avoiding some of the pitfalls?

I see the biggest value of charters being the charter document itself: Having a contract that clearly spells out what the goals are, what the school is responsible for, what the district is responsible for, and what happens if either party doesn't do their part. I think that could offer protection to the alt schools, and a way to hold the district accountable.

Having run a few teams, I also see a lot of value in the principal being able to build the team he or she wants. Having even one person on your team who doesn't agree with your approach can ruin the working environment, and the results, for everyone else. That does no one any good. That's not so much "fire bad teachers" as "hire teachers who agree with the school's philosophy." I think alts do this to some extent now, but some of the thing I've heard about scripted interview questions and the like make is sound like it would be very hard to do. I don't think you need charters for this, but maybe it's easier with a philosophy and goals spelled out in a charter document, so everyone knows what to expect.

I'm also ok with the idea of partnerships between public schools (charter or not) and private non-profit organizations. The New School, the TAF Academy, and even the McGilvra PTA are all fine with me.

What I don't like are FOR-profit charter operations. I'm generally sceptical about hiring for-profit entities to do government work. Sometimes there's a person or organization with very specialized skills that it doesn't make sense for the government to develop in-house, but usually not. If things can be done in-house, I think that's usually going to be more efficient. And, even if it isn't, I'd rather see a little extra going to government employees than to for-profit businesses. I also think that for the most part, in both public and private organizations, the people managing outsourced projects are often not qualified to do or manage the work, and that makes it hard for them to hold the contractors accountable.

I also don't like highly-structured school environments, but I'm willing be convinced that this is my own personal preference and that some families really want or need this choice. Many Catholic schools seem to do a good job of balancing strictness and a loving environment, so it can be done.

KIPP is highly strucutred, and I think it's for-profit, so it makes me doubly uncomfortable.

But, what if we allowed charters, as long as they weren't for-profit enterprises? Could that give us the benefits of alt schools and of charters, without some of the downfall?

owlhouse said...

Interesting news out of Arizona this week. AZ is a pioneering state in the public/private partnership of k-12 education. They've got charters of all sorts and worked with vouchers until the state supreme court ruled them unconstitutional in March of this year. Now, after years of expressed concern by parental groups the ACLU and other activists, the state's system of awarding tax credits for "donations" to private schools is being exposed for the purse-lining, segregation encouraging, political-ladder-climbing scam that it is. The school leadership/reform climate in Phoenix is different than here in Seattle, but the risks are the same. Allowing private interests to determine the course of public education, even those who "pay their own way", "want what's best for kids" is a failure in the making.

If Broad, Gates, Dell, Walton or any other foundational family wants to try their hand at venture philanthropy profiteering by way of k-12 education, they should invest 100,000x what they have and build their own system.