Monday, August 31, 2009
In fact, with the support of the governor, More Good Schools, a non-profit, is working to set up schools and create 25,000 new charter seats in the next 10 years.
Part of this move is to open the way for larger operators such as YES schools. Michigan has scared away larger operators because of the difficult landscape for charters. This change in political attitude will allow seasoned operators and leaders to see Michigan as a place to go, not a place to stay away from.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
The school is associated with the Western Center Museum of Archaeology and Paleontology.
The school will allow all interested students, but the founders are targeting those who really need an experiential method to develop a passion for learning. The school would specialize in sciences and math, but would teach all core subject areas.
The school district is welcoming the new school.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
One journalist wrote an article entitled "Charter vs. Public School." Last time I checked charter schools ARE public schools. They are part of our public school system. They may be different, but my not be a district operated school, but they are part of the public school system and subject to all laws unless they receive specific waivers.
The article included a section on waiting lists and the "first come, first served" nature of charter schools. One unthinking commenter wrote "Charter schools should not be funded by tax payers dollars. If the tax payer is footing the bill, all students should be allowed to attend." The guest comment ignores that fact that even traditional districts do not let in all students to a specific school. My daughter was refused entrance to our neighborhood school because it was full, and we were offered the opportunity to have her bussed to another school at least twenty minutes from our house (without traffic or waiting in line).
The other comments is that continuing ignorant (or deceptive) comment that charter schools take money from school districts. I have written many times about this fallacy. The fact is that districts never had the money. They don't lose it and it's not stolen from them. If they "lose" it, it's their own fault in the same way that if MacDonald's loses a cutomer to Wendy's, it's not Wendy's fault.
It's difficult in the current debate to discuss these issues when people who write about them don't even understand the most basic concepts about charter schools. How do we eliminate the confusion? Education?
Why are unions so confused about the reason for and the nature of charter schools? In a recent blog, it is still apparent that unions just don't get it.
Here is an interesting one. It's called "Washington DC: How to Wipe Out a Public School System."
This blog creatively uses current charter school enrollment for
I highly doubt that number 1 is possible. The author appears educated about the status of charter schools. Number 2 is a distinct possibility as union members and leaders largely do not like charter schools and fight them at almost every turn, even when they are successful. Number 3 is also a possibility. Although I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, it's not unlike most politically motivated, self-interested people to make arguments and ignore truth to their own advantage. As one who has taught argument at the college level, I can attest to the fact that it is not unusual at all to catch educated people in the act of adjusting language to suit their needs.
Whether or not it is number 2 or number 3, it shows that union members are, best case, confused about the nature of charter schools and are willing to damn them merely on the basis that they are not traditional public schools. Fear of change, fear of loss of jobs is real. But the truth must be used if we are going to do the best thing for students. Let's not argue based on lies or deception. If charter schools are bad, then let's close those that are bad, not because they are charter schools. Let's not be confused.
Monday, August 24, 2009
The NEA came out against Obama's support for charter schools the other day. The NEA admits that "the current system fails many students." Apparently that's not enough to justify allowing other options that people can choose.
The NEA says that charter school are not the answer because they aren't based on proven research. They also say that test scores are not an adequate way to measure teachers (and apparently the current system).
To put the second point out of the way. I agree that test scores are not an adequate way to measure teachers. There are many variables in measuring results and good teaching practices that have little to do with test scores.
However, I take great issue with the first point. Let's conceded that charter schools as a whole are not based on proven research. The fact is that many charter schools are successful and cannot be disregarded because there hasn't been enough research. The other fact is that "the current system fails many students" and that many charter schools are helping those students. So, why not learn from those schools rather than fighting them? I know the real answer that the NEA would give to that question, but I won't dive into that here because there is yet another real point. In order to have research on something, you have to have examined it and experimented with it. That's exactly what is going on right now.
The second point here is that you can't throw out all charter schools because some aren't good. That's a logical fallacy. You can't group unlike entities together just because they are all called charter schools. It's like saying that the Detroit Lions are a terrible football team, so we ought not let any Detroit Lions players play in the NFL.
The third point is that the unions argue against test scores as a measure of success for their teachers, but will use test scores against charter schools, if the charter schools' test scores are lower than traditional public schools. Isn't that a bit disingenuous?
So, NEA, why not work with charter schools to determine what is best for kids. Why fight them at every turn? The answer is easy. It's because unionized teachers might not be protected. It has nothing to do with education. It has everything to do with the fact that non-union teachers don't pay union dues. If the NEA really cared about education, it would look at the best of charter schools rather than the worst and learn from those high performing charter schools. I am not familiar with even one example of a traditional public school or district that has taken practices from its high performing charter schools and implemented the practices into their traditional schools. I am very familiar with successful charter schools being consistently attacked by their districts for issues completely unrelated to their successful results.
While the NEA tries to play both sides of the testing evidence and bury charter schools, many of us think that a teachers' union should be focused on developing better teachers, not just creating self-justifying arguments. When Russia found that their system wasn't working they dismantled communism and pulled down old statues of Lenin and Stalin. They are currently discussing removing Lenin's tomb from Red Square. Sometimes positive change means taking some risk and discarding the past. Maybe it's time that we realize the unions' self-serving propaganda for what it is. Is it time to tear down the statues of the past?
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
face up to basic facts. We can't solve our problems by handing them off to businesses and community groups. Some schools will claim success by excluding the students who are hardest to educate; others will claim success by drilling children endlessly on test-taking skills.I find this argument extremely troublesome coming from someone with Ms. Ravitch's credentials.
What should we do? We must strengthen — not abandon — public education.
First, charter schools are part of our public school system. And having worked in one, I can say that while they are independent in many ways, they certainly are not autonomous, and the school districts and other authorizers do not simply "hand them off." Before we can accuse leaders of abandoning public education we have to define what public education is and what our model is. As of now, our model of public education includes charter school.
Second, if the answer is to strengthen public education, then why haven't we done it before? And if we now all of a sudden have the answer, what is it? How are we going to strengthen the traditional failed system? Will we shore up shoddy workmanship?
I've been to Russia many times and seen the awful construction that was done in the 1960s and 1970s. I've seen workers shoring up buildings that never should have been built.
Any business person knows that it's easy to espouse vision and strategies. Implementation is the hardest part. Traditional public education has proven that it doesn't work and can't work. All of the research on bureaucracy since Max Weber tells us that bureaucracies do not change unless we force them to. If nothing else happens from opening up the model of public education to charter schools, it is that charter schools move us to change. However, as Ms. Ravitch admits, most districts have not changed when they've seen charter schools succeed. The problem isn't with the charter schools. It is with districts who keep doing the same thing the same way over and over. I've seen a definition of insanity that is "doing the same thing in the same way and expecting different results."
Ms. Ravitch envisions schools with
well-rounded curriculums that include the arts, history, science, geography, literature and foreign languages, as well as basic skills. Teachers should be well-educated and treated with dignity. Principals should be head teachers, who can capably evaluate and assist their teachers. School buildings should be well-maintained. Class sizes should be reasonable, making it possible for teachers to give extra attention to students who need it. Schools should have a firm and fair disciplinary code.No one is arguing that point--at least not in the charter school world. If that was the way that public education was run fifteen years ago, there would have been little need for an alternative. The problem is that either few know how to get there or they don't have the will power to make it happen.
I've also read a lot of Karl Marx (more than I wanted do, but that's grad school) and know that many of Marx's most beautiful ideas will never happen. Utopia is great for people like Marx or Thomas Moore, but the flip side is the potential for A Brave New World or 1984 or We or Erewhon or Brazil. Unless there is choice, unless there is community involvement, and unless a person takes some responsibility to join together, not because she is forced to, but because she believes it is what is best, then public education will always fail.
We must maintain our right to choose, to innovate and to work hard to develop new methods outside of the government mandated laboratory called public education. The answer is to develop character in teachers, students, and families that believe that education is important. We can't pretend that saying we are going to make schools better will make them better. We have to provide the means to allow those who want to make schools better to do it, and fail trying if need be. It's no less than we've given traditional public education for decades.
In an article that has been widely spread on Twitter this morning, the Boston Globe reports that "Charter Schools lag in serving the neediest." This was extremely disturbing to me because I know some operators of Boston schools and because I've heard very good things about Boston charter schools, so I had to read the article to find out the truth.
When I read the title I immediately jumped to two conclusions. First, that needy students and charter schools are not being helped. Interestingly enough, that's not really what the article says. In fact, it gives some evidence that needy students are being helped.
The second conclusion I jumped to is that the author is lumping good and bad charter schools into one big bucket and tossing them all out together. That was not the case either as the author did point out some positive things going on in charters.
The real point of the article is that there aren't enough needy kids in charter schools. In fact, Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said, “It’s a step in the right direction but not sufficient enough.’’ He and his membership prefer a call for quotas of special education and English language learners for charters. There are other similar quotes, but I won't bore you. You can read the article.
However, doesn't this attitude simply demonstrate the gulf between the intent of charter schools and the politics that has developed. Charter schools are supposed to develop successful methods of education, not necessarily educate equal numbers of the same types of students. So, in the case of charters that have done a good job with needy students, why don't the district schools use those methods to educate needy children?
In addition, what is the purpose of requiring charters to have a quota of "needy" children. Doesn't that make charters just like district schools? That wasn't the intent of charter law, nor should it be. Charters are supposed to be schools of choice.
I'm not sure exactly what is going on here, but it certainly smells like further bureaucratic creep into the very fundamental nature of charter schools and their purpose. Rather than seeing charters as incubators of change and innovation, quotas would make charters just like failing district schools.
If we are going to make laws restricting schools, why not laws restricting non-charter schools? Why not make a law saying that where a charter school has developed a method of successfully working with needy kids, that non-charter schools are required to adopt those methods? Why not make a law stating that where charter school discipline codes have improved behavior and learning that non-charter schools have to develop similar codes of conduct? It seems to me that the bureaucrats who created failing schools and created the environment that demanded the creation of charter schools are now trying to lower charter schools to their own level.
So, let it be known that charter schools are not failing the neediest in Boston. They may not be helping as many as they could, but that's not their mission nor their purpose. Their purpose is to demonstrate methods that the non-charter can use to support the students that they have. Charter schools aren't supposed to be a lifeboat (although many think that's what they are). They are supposed to be more like a research facility. Let's let charter schools be what they are supposed to be not something that bureaucrats wish they were.
Well, when a charter school is successful and wants to grow, what happens? Global Village has found that politics and red tape abound. In its case local politics are preventing the expansion of their successful model. We have a problem.
State law says that charter schools and encouraged and are fully public entities. The current federal education policy is that states should encourage good charter schools. In this case, it's local boundary issues that are prohibiting the improvement of education.
The situation: Global Village is a successful language immersion school in Aurora. They need more space to accommodate demand. The best building they can find is within the boundaries of Denver Public Schools.
So, now there is a local fight. DPS, I presume, is afraid that the school will take DPS students. I have written in another blog that it is impossible for a charter school to take students, so I won't rehash that argument.
The point here is that we've lost track of the goals of education. Whether you like charter schools or not, the most basic reason for having charter schools is a good one--to find ways to improve education for children. Global Village has done that. They are meeting the goals.
GVA's current dilemma is not about education. It's not about serving students. In a business book called, The Goal, Eliyahu Goldratt talks about the problems that occur when leaders take their focus off of the goal. In our case, I wonder what will happen as these local battles are allowed to take our focus off of the goal. The goal of education is not about squabbling over whose kids these are or what building the kids are in. The goal is to teach kids, to help them become thinkers of tomorrow with a strong foundation of knowledge.
What is the goal? When will we learn to focus on the goal?
Sunday, August 9, 2009
I posted this on my examiner.com page, but liked it so much I thought I'd repeat it here.
As Lawrence Hernandez leads Cesar Chavez Charter School Network (CCCSN) into the next few months of school starting, things have been complicated by a detailed investigation by an organization hired by the Colorado Department of Education (
There are three main charges that have drawn the most attention. The first is that Hernandez (and other CCCSN executives) is grossly overpaid. The latest figure on Hernandez’s total compensation is approximately $264,000. The second charge is that Hernandez’s hiring of his wife as the Chief Operating Officer is improper. The third is that an extremely large percentage of CCCSN students were given extra time on the CSAP.
On the first charge, it can be argued that Hernandez’s salary has long been public and is approved by the board every year. He does not set his own salary. Valuing an executive is very difficult and comparison to other public school leaders is not necessarily conclusive. While it, perhaps, gives a range of appropriate pay, different organizations see the value of their executives differently. Charter schools are designed to be innovative. For example, there is a charter school in
The second charge is tougher, but even if hiring one’s spouse as a direct report is commonly viewed as inappropriate, the board knew about the hiring and the board is ultimately responsible for running the school. The board may want to consider a policy to prohibit this, but at this point, there is no evidence that Hernandez or his wife have taken advantage of their positions in unethical ways. Assuming that Mrs. Hernandez is doing her job well, then there really isn’t an issue here.
The third charge is the one that seems at the heart of the matter. CCCSN has survived, in many ways, because of the evidence that it surpasses its district in academic achievement. The problem with the way this has been handled so far, perhaps by both parties, is that the students’ actual knowledge has been ignored. Let’s assume for the sake of getting to my real point that all of the accusations about “cheating” on CSAPs are true. The implications for the school seem very bad. However, it seems even worse for the children. The reason is that even if the school cheated on the assessments, the students may know everything that they demonstrated. In other words, extra time doesn’t necessarily correspond to extra knowledge. If a student doesn’t know an answer, then it doesn’t matter if she has one extra minute or an extra hour.
Because we won’t know the students’ true achievements (again, this is assuming that the accusations of cheating are true) until the next round of CSAPs are released (a year from now), we can’t really say whether or not Hernandez’s educational model is successful or not.
The goal of a school is education of children. That seems self-evident. Therefore, whatever the final conclusion is about Lawrence Hernandez, the CCCSN board, or testing procedures, that report will have nothing to say about whether or not the school has succeeded in its main goal. I hope that
Thursday, August 6, 2009
For three days, I’m using this space to brag on three of TCA’s excellent teachers. These three short vignettes are about professionals who walk the talk of continuous improvement.
Cynthia Storrs is one of those teachers. Before joining our staff at The Classical Academy, Cynthia taught for many years at the Black Forest Academy in Germany. As students often say, Mrs. Storrs is tough, fair, and passionate. That’s a triple-threat teacher in my book.
- Without toughness, a teacher can be a pushover.
- Without fairness, a teacher loses respect and polarizes the class into favorites and outcasts.
- Without passion, a teacher is monotonous.
Because she combined these three characteristics while teaching at BFA, Mrs. Storrs was invited back and flew across the pond to speak at graduation a year after she left the school. That’s enduring affection. One way a teacher earns that kind of admiration is through enduring learning.
This summer, Mrs. Storrs attended a special seminar on Emily Dickinson in Amherst, Mass. Through the National Endowment for the Humanities, she met and learned with 80 other Dickinson enthusiasts. Watching Cynthia talk about reading the original manuscripts and transcribing handwritten manuscripts reminded me of the energy of THIS GUY. She radiated something we don’t often associate with public school teachers—joy. You can’t fake joy. And you can’t fool students with manufactured passion. When you have it, you want more. When you get more, you share more and everyone around you basks in the glow.
Do you radiate passion? Could you? Will you?
I won't write a lot here because I wrote a long union piece yesterday, but coincidentally an article came through on my Google alert email that I couldn't resist sharing because it gives examples of what Peter Hilts and I have been blogging about over the past two years.
The article (entitled "Teacher Unions Frequently Flunk the School Reform Test") by Thomas W. Carroll admits that often the union's goals coincide with student needs, but that when it comes to true school reform, the union often opposes change. It's a good read and gives good examples. Check it out.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Unions have some very bright people at the helm. You will note in all of my anti-union arguments, I've never said that they were stupid. They know their audience. they know they represent teachers and not students. While we can't paint all union leaders with the words of their members and supporters, nor paint all union members with the words of their leaders, I found this blog entry particularly disturbing.
So, Mr. Trend, whoever you really are, I have to call you out. His blog was titled "Teachers at Charter Schools Beginning to Form Unions"
Let's address his points one by one.
- He wants to set up a system of evaluation for teachers that allows awful teachers to be fired (with the union). He assumes the need for a union without any argument for its existence. Normally, when you argue in favor of the existence of an entity, it has to be justified. The easiest reason for not wanting teachers' unions to set up the evaluation systems is that there is a clear conflict of interest and unions have historically not wanted bad teachers fired. In other words, having unions run the evaluation system is like letting the fox guard the hen house.
- Mr. Trend then says that he doesn't understand "(nor do opponents of the unions explain) how unionization restricts freedom to innovate." We've addressed this here many times and our blog is often found near the top of search engines. The main explanation is that unions restrict innovation by being only for the teachers. They don't do anything about education nor do they necessarily care about educational method. For example, when schools try to change and teachers can't adapt, unions protect teachers.
- The next statement is a bit inflammatory about charter schools, accusing charters of "treating them like the adjuncts of primary and secondary education." For a person who has said that union opponents don't explain things, this is a pretty bold statement with no justification. I've been very active in the charter movement and have been to three national conferences in a row. I've presented a very well received session on strategic compensation for charter school teachers. I have yet to know of a charter school that treats its teachers as adjuncts or pays them that way. There is of course the very simple argument that there are far more elements of compensation than money. Atmosphere, respect, small class size, and mission all are elements of any job (not just teaching) that affect pay and a person' willingness to work for an organization. This is the same with charter school teachers. I've written about this on my www.examiner.com web site.
- The next point is about turnover. Very simply put, charter schools have more turnover due to being allowed to dismiss teachers easily. There are other reasons. For example, teachers may, in fact, decide that teaching at a charter school for less money is not for them. They may desire money over mission, but that's their choice.
- Mr. Trend's next point is about input into pedagogy. This is a troublesome point, because I also don't know of a charter school that doesn't allow teacher input into pedagogy. There is a difference between having input and having that input accepted. One of the beautiful things about some charter schools is that they do have a very focused method. If they have a focused method and they have an experienced academic expert leading the implementation of that method, then teacher input will be limited. That's not a bad thing. In fact, quite often, knowing where you are going and how to do it is a good thing. Chick-fil-a, McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Land's End, and Ritz-Carlton have all made a great name for themselves because they know how they want things done. They allow employee input, but they don't accept all employee input.
Here is the latest claim, this time from Louisiana. "The loss of an additional $519,000 in revenue will be catastrophic to the Union Parish School Board and will make its ability to meet all of its obligations ... impossible," the motion reads. "It will not be able to provide the facilities or the materials for the large number of minority students within the system."
At first, this sounds like a charter school's argument about budget cuts. The charter school that I worked for lost almost $300,000 and didn't find out about it until the legislature voted near the end of the school year. In that case the charter schools really did lose real money that they were promised. It was in the school finance act. However, for districts:
The money was never promised to them. They projected the revenue, but it's not their revenue. Almost all states pass a finance law that gives the per pupil revenue and an estimate of what that means for a district, but it's not the district's money. So, by definition, it's not a revenue loss.
The argument that a district cannot meet its budget is not a valid reason for not funding a charter school. If a charter school can't meet its budget, it's poor fiscal management. If the district can't meet it's budget, it's the charter school's fault?!?!?!?! Does that make sense to anyone besides a district CFO? In addition, the statement in the above quote that losing this money makes balancing the budget impossible, is simply not true. Impossible is like God making a rock so big that he himself can't lift it.* Making a budget work is really hard some times (I know I used to have to make a charter school's budget work), but it's not impossible.
The expenses that make the budget balancing activity difficult for districts are often self-imposed. They've built infrastructure or tied their hands with union contracts. They refuse to lay-off people or cut programs. Charter schools face these decisions every year at a far worse level than districts. If districts were innovative, they would find ways to work with the budgets they have.
So, in all, the fact is that a charter school can NEVER take money from a district, and a district can NEVER lose money to a charter school.
*I'm not intending to be sexist here. I'm taking this line from George Carlin's old joke.
For three days, I’m using this space to brag on three of TCA’s excellent teachers. These three short vignettes are about professionals who walk the talk of continuous improvement.
Alan Versaw is arguably the most successful distance running coach in Colorado High School History. The women’s team at The Classical Academy has won six consecutive state championships, and they are strong contenders to add a seventh. Last year our school of only 600 students placed 12 in the nation at the Nike Cross Nationals. The men’s XC team has won several individual and team championships, and Coach Versaw has been the distance coach for four consecutive women’s state championship track teams as well as multiple men’s state champions. In 09-10, TCA swept both women’s and men’s XC and track. Not surprisingly, Alan has been Coach of the Year more than once.
On August 1, Coach Versaw’s teams gathered at the Nielsen Challenge race for a team time trial. Over 35 athletes showed up to try and make the team.
On August 1.
At 8:00 AM.
On a summer Saturday.
It takes a special coach to inspire that kind of dedication. Here’s what’s special about Coach V. After the time trial, the team gathered at a nearby house for a post-race breakfast. Coach Versaw had to leave early from the breakfast to attend a coaching clinic.
This is crazy. This is like Michael Phelps [flashing hyperbole detector] taking swimming lessons. Great coaches don’t have to attend clinics. But coaches who hunger to improve do. Coaches who want to model for their elite athletes the importance of continuous learning—do.
No matter how good you are or how much acclaim you receive, you can improve. Do you?
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
For three days, I’m using this space to brag on three of TCA’s excellent teachers. These three short vignettes are about professionals who walk the talk of continuous improvement. Each one of them spent personal time over the summer attending clinics, conferences, or seminars. They are far from the only teachers at TCA who refresh and recharge over the summer, but they are exemplars of the kind of people we try to hire. I can observe the difference between good teachers and teachers like these, for whom lifelong learning is not a catch phrase. It is precisely because of teachers like these that I am such an ardent supporter of strategic compensation. More than merit pay, bonuses, career ladders, etc. strategic compensation is an integrated approach that aligns pay structures to the school’s goals. If you want more teachers like Natasha, Alan, and Cynthia—you’d better figure out how to attract and retain them before I do ;-)
Natasha Westcott is a team leader and popular teacher with a gift for reaching learners at all levels. She has served TCA by leading at multiple grade levels, and her constant positive disposition is a morale booster for us all. During an all-school community service day, Natasha took a group of students (including my son David) to a ranch where the owners practice equine therapy for troubled students and those on the autism spectrum. While others of us cleaned parks and served in non-profits, Natasha took her students farther and deeper. Her leadership flows from the heart, and that’s why her students love her. But Natasha is also gifted in the classroom. An elective she teaches, called Great Women Authors, is a perennial favorite among young ladies (and the occasional astute gentleman who understands ratios.) During the course of this class, the student read outstanding & important authors, analyze their work, and enter their worlds. This summer, Natasha found an opportunity to attend a conference on Jane Austen. As you might imagine, Austen features prominently in a class on significant women authors. For those who dismiss Austen’s depth, Natasha has a deep and growing repertoire of analysis and insight into Austen’s craft. It is no coincidence that while she was at the Austen conference, Natasha met a prospective candidate for a teaching position at TCA. That candidate is now on staff, due in part to the encouragement and example of Natasha Westcott.
Great teachers can coast. Mentors can relax. Colleagues can shut down. What do you do?
A new charter school in South Carolina is different. It's different in two big ways. First, it will soon occupy a new building. The building is built according to very stringent environmental standards. It's state of the art green technology will save money and resources. The building is also built to the standards set by the school and will facilitate education better than the old modular buildings in which teachers had to share classrooms.
The part that I really like though is that the building was built by the district. This is what makes it really different. Why can't districts and states understand that when they put into their laws that charter schools are state entities or that they are "part of the district" that funding for things like facilities is basic?
TOTAL COST: $22.3 million
STUDENT CAPACITY: 725 students
SQUARE FOOTAGE: 85,000
FORMAL DEDICATION: Aug. 14 at 2 p.m. in the school's multipurpose room
INTERESTING FACT: The campus includes a separate day care building for Orange Grove staff members' children.
Monday, August 3, 2009
It seems to me there is an unspoken assumption that charter school are better than non-charter schools. Because if this is not true, then the divide won't increase. There will simply be a separation between the quality of the student population of each type of school.
The interesting question he doesn't ask is: what do we do about parents who don't care and don't participate in their child's education?
Many parents either because they don't care or they don't know what they don't know leave their children entirely to a school system to educate their children. As we all know, a school, no matter how good, can't do everything. Parental involvement in a child's education is one of the strongest indicators of success.
Will we reach a point where we begin to educate parents on this matter? Will we get to the extreme of removing children from homes of parents who either don't or won't participate? Is this a form of neglect?
These are troubling questions, but real ones if we want to escape the divide that already exists. Finding and training great teachers is one thing, but training and motivating parents is an even more difficult task. However, it may be the only real solution to this divide.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
So, I put together a year round school schedule. I know. Stupid, right? It will never fly. Others have tried it. I'm not sure if the research supports it, but here is my crazy, stupid, off the cuff idea.
January - last week of the month off
February - last week of the month off
March - spring break
April - last week of the month off
May - Memorial Day week off
June - July - Last week of June through the end of the first week of July
August - first week of the month off
September - Labor Day week off
October - first week of the month off
November - Thanksgiving week off
December - the two week holiday break
I did this in the space of about ten minutes, so given what I've seen of the battles over calendars, I'm sure my ten minutes of work would actually take about a decade to any kind of agreement. Also, I may have missed some holidays or something that someone would have to add in, but it's got plenty of time off for both winter and summer vacations. It would allow students to retain more and create a better flow from one subject to another. It would take a year or two to get used to, then "bam." People would be so used to the schedule, it would be like it was always this way.
I'd suggest that this is one of the biggest and simplest changes we could make to improve education. So, fire back! What's the problem?
In public debate, we've often found that the person making a argument believes that he or she has just cause for starting or engaging in the attack. However, it seems that we are far less in agreement about the method of attack and the respect for one's opponent as a person.
While certainly not universal, it seems that those who attack charter schools do so with such vigor and anger that they forget that their opponents are people and that the arguments used ought to have some real grounding. As I outline some of, what I believe to be, the inadequate thinking about charter school evaluation, you can determine whether some people unjustly attack charters or not.
First, charters are often said to take students from school districts. This seems to be unjust because it assumes that somehow the students belong to the districts. I've argued before that, just like any vendor, a customer is only one's customer as long as that customer is satisfied with the vendor. A charter can't take students from a district any more than Target can take customers from Wal-Mart.
Second, charter school test scores and compared to non-charter school test scores to determine their academic success. It's funny that those same people often oppose the use of test scores to grade teachers. They also don't like to use test scores to judge their own schools. This argument ignores two facts. One is that test scores are not the only measure of success. The second is that for a school to be truly evaluated, you need between five and ten years of existence. Most charters have not been in existence for ten years, and a fair number have not been in existence for five years. Comparing charter schools to non-charter schools requires a much more nuanced evaluation. Why not include measures such as percentage of students who are prepared for or who graduate from college?
Third, charter schools generally do not pay teachers adequately. In most professions, adequate pay is defined by the market. I was in the IT industry for a while. When I first got into the industry, my company couldn't hire people fast enough. People fresh out of college were being paid premium wages. We were hiring people as fast as we could. Eighteen months later, our company closed and let about 1,000 workers back into the market. Many of those people had to move to find jobs, if they could find jobs. Salaries for IT employees in our area dropped or at least stabilized for the next three years. The point is that an adequate salary depends on what it takes to hire effective people. Charter schools often pay less for two reasons. The first is that they don't receive adequate funding. The second is that they can find high quality teachers for less money because they often compete against private schools who pay even less.
(On a side note, it's funny to me that non-charter schools have never that I've seen criticized private schools for paying less. I'm guessing that's because they've never seen private schools as a real threat. Now that charter schools are growing, there is a pragmatic reason to pull out this argument. Note that it's also an argument about teachers, not about the quality of education. If charter schools can prove that they can provide an equal or better quality education for less money, that would mean that charter schools are a better value and....hmmmm.)
So, while perhaps not immoral, the arguments against charter schools made so far seem to be either premature (as in the case of comparing test scores) or unfair in that they use irrelevant criteria for their criticism. Let's face it, at least for the next five to ten years, charter schools are here to stay. If we believe in high quality education, it seems to me that the best way to proceed is to make both charter schools and non-charter schools the best that they can be within the contstraints given to us by budgets and the laws. Then let's see if we can't provide a good education in all of those venues and end this debate. Why can't it be that both non-charter schools and charter schools can exist side by side providing the education that parents want? That seems just to me.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
His point, and I agree with this in part, is that both non-charter and charter public schools need to be accountable. The debate about charter school existence often centers on test scores. Are charter schools better or worse? If they are the same why do those darn charter schools exist?
The answer is really pretty easy. Those darn charter schools exist to give further accountability to the non-charter schools. Non-charter schools have gone for years with almost no accountability. Sure, they have been accountable for budgets and for state law compliance, but that's not education. It's like having a library where all the books are all accounted for and on the proper shelves. No one ever turns a book in late. Of course, no one ever reads the books they check out nor are the books on the shelves worth reading. BUT while the library has great administrative accountability, the library is a pretty lousy library.
The goal of those darn charter schools is to exceed the accomplishments of non-charter schools. That goal has not been clearly met, although there are also indications that charters are getting better. In addition, the one thing that can't be measured is what would be the results in both non-charter schools and charter schools if charter schools weren't competing and making non-charter schools accountable for their educational outcomes.
So, next time someone wants to complain about those darn charter schools and how they aren't accountable, take a step back and look at the facts. Just the fact that there are people criticizing and examining those darn charter schools may mean that those darn charter schools are worth having aroiund.