At Times Union, Paul Bray wrote an opinion piece entitled "Charter schools use kids as pawns." Because I'm not very creative or thoughtful, I'm retitling his piece and sending it right back to him.
Bray states up front that he is a long time public school advocate. He says, in part, "I am a fan of public education. I think it is one of the pillars of our nation. From kindergarten through high school, I attended public schools in Albany. I appreciate what I learned academically as well as the civic and social values I developed." He goes on to talk about his parents (his father a school teacher, his mother a state Department of Education employee). In other words, he is defending his turf.
He then says, "Charter schools are run with public money and are generally exempt from curriculum rules and teachers unions. I see charter school advocates as more against teachers unions than for educating needy students."
It is an interesting hypothesis. However, his key evidence is the writing of Diane Ravitch, the former charter supporter and U.S. Education Department official who now opposes charter schools.
How any of the evidence for or against charter school success translates into charter school supporters begin more against teachers unions than for educating needy students is beyond me. It's readily apparent to me that all charter school advocates are very much in favor of educating children. In fact, I know a large percentage of the charter school leaders in Colorado, and almost all they talk about is educating kids. I've also know some of the state charter association leaders and have been to the past two national charter school conferences as a speaker. Many of us want reform in the unions, and I know some who are anti-union, but the goal is to develop excellent educational models.
One of the statistics used by Bray is that charter schools often have 50 to 60 percent fail to finish. I'm not sure where he gets those figures, as he doesn't tell us. It's also not clear if that is fail to finish school or fail to finish in the charter school. Could it be that some charter schools hold students to such a high standard that they choose to return to a traditional public school? I know of one school in my city for which that is exactly the case. Perhaps if high expectations were normal, then charter schools wouldn't have that problem.
Bray also cites Ravitch stating that, "they [charter school supporters] also fail to recognize that the best predictor of low academic performance is poverty -- not bad teachers." This is true if we look at the traditional public schools that Bray supports. However, there are many charter schools that have been successful with high poverty students. Mr. Bray doesn't address that. In his book, The Learning Leader, Douglas B. Moore discusses this very issue and gives examples of why school success is much more dependent on what adults do in the building than on what kids enter with (and that's not just in charter schools).
Reading Mr. Bray's opinion piece, I found that the arguments in favor of the traditional public system were really based on his long term relationship with it. He liked his education. His parents liked their job in education. He sees the public school system as a community builder. However, most of those arguments are irrelevant. There are many of us who were not served well by the public education systems, and we do not believe that our children or the children of others are served well by the traditional system. However, our tax dollars are taken from us to support a system that we believe needs real reform, not just a few improvements here and there. To deny us our rights, the anti-charter school people somehow distort and disfigure the information about the failing public schools such that even good charter schools all of a sudden look bad. It's as if they have substituted a curvy fun house mirror for a clear and true mirror.
In order to uphold their agenda to support the current ineffective system, they've lumped all charter schools together into one pot. That way they won't have to make arguments against the best charter schools. They won't have to examine the best charter schools and replicate their practices. They won't have to hold teachers to a higher standard. They can continue to make excuses.
Just as Bray qualifies his arguments by saying that public schools aren't perfect, I'll qualify my argument. Not all charter schools are cut from the same mold. It is important that chartering organizations do a better job up front with making sure that charter starters know what they are doing and what they are up against. It is important as charters reach the next stage that we begin to look at why the best charter schools are as successful as they are. However, let's not use children as pawns on either side of the fence. Let's look at the best of class in education and make better schools. And if some of that best in class education comes from charter schools (and we know it does), then let's not claim checkmate when all we've really done is taken a few pawns.
I have not seen the movie yet, but here is one person who agrees that the school system uses children as pawn. Have you seen The Cartel by Bob Bowdon?