Monday, July 26, 2010
I've begun to wonder if some people are addicted to public education. They just can't stop themselves on matter what the facts. It's not questioned that many of the people of whom I speak are chronic supporters of traditional public education and opponents of any other means of education that might compete or draw students out of traditional classrooms.
It also appears that their behaviors form a sort of primary disorder. In other words, there may have been a time when they started "using' public education as the best means for educating children. However, as times begin to change, they continue to use traditional public education in the same ways they have in the past and cannot let it go. Even if one were to improve educational options around them, they would still favor public education.
Interestingly enough, it also seems as if this addiction is progressive. The more options that come about, the angrier some of these public education proponents become. Have you ever told and addict that he or she had a problem with a drug?
One question is whether or not this addiction is curable. Once people reach a certain point in their addiction, it's almost impossible to get them out. The withdrawal pains are great. What we in business call "switching costs" are too high. So, it becomes easier to simply hold on to the addiction that one has developed rather than let go and attempt some alternative.
I suppose the same could be said about proponents of many things. It is difficult to give up a position once held dearly. However, this area of education that so many currently believe is so important is not an area in which we want people arguing simply on the basis of their addictions. We need rational people who want to design schools and other educational options in ways that are best for the kids, not in ways that preserve addictive behavior.
What do you think?
Saturday, July 24, 2010
There are both problems with this analogy as well as helpful similarities to education choice. The problem is that with investments, there are a wide variety of investments. No one knows what the outcomes of these investments are at any given point in time. Thirty years ago, and we still hear it today, is that people should buy and hold a portfolio that mirrors the SP500 for long term appreciation. It's pretty clear that the past ten years have debunked that idea. Thousands of families are seeking new alternatives because the evidence is clearer than ever that "past performance is no guarantee of future results." What was rational ten or twelve years ago is not quite so. Pundits still don't seem to know where the market or the economy is going. Some say that the market may have another ten years of poor performance left.
In the same way, no one really knows what a good education is, especially for a given child. It may be that the importance of school is more about the relationships built than the test scores achieved. It may be more about learning interdependence and problem solving rather than memorizing OR vice versa.
The problem with suggesting that parents have to make a rational choice about schools is manifold.
First, it assumes that a rational choice is a good choice. A rational choice is based on evidence. Given the lack of evidence about what constitutes a good education, it's difficult to make a rational choice on which everyone would agree.
Second, it presumes that there are many educational choices that are good. For many people, without choice, there are no good choices.
Third, unlike investing, one can't look at education quantitatively.
Fourth, the funny thing about modern theories about irrational choice is that it never says that irrational choice is always bad. There are many good choices that are made irrationally. Sometimes making a choice on gut feel is a good thing, especially if a parent already has a good idea of where his child has been and where his child wants to go.
Fifth, the alternative to eliminating school choice is still that there is then one option. If that option is bad, then it doesn't matter if you are a rational or irrational decision maker. It's as if the government would say that you can only invest in Treasury Bills. OK.
The fact is that without choice there would be no bad investment decisions. There would also be no good ones. The same is true with school choice. Without it, well, there just isn't anything to think about.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
OK. So, first of all, charter critics keep arguing that charter schools AREN'T better than their traditional public school "competitors." If that's true, then why even ask the question.
So, I'll take the bait. Let's say for a minute that every charter school lived up to its promise and was at least measurably better than the surrounding public schools. This seems to be a premise of the question "Why give some kids a better education than others?"
The question still seems really foolish to me. Does anyone believe that prior to charter schools everyone had the same educational opportunities?
It seems to me that the question is being asked by primarily suburbanites in good school districts who just don't understand the problem at all, suburbanites who think that urban schools really aren't that bad, or suburbanites who are the kind of do-gooders who believe if you can't make the world better for everyone, then you shouldn't make it better for anyone. I suppose that I can think of one last category. That category would be those in bad urban schools who did not win a place during their local high performing charter school's lottery.
In any case, the answer, is not to eliminate high performing charter schools just because not everyone can go to one. That would be like suggesting we do away with magnet schools or other high performing public schools programs or even high performing schools districts because not everyone can go to a high performing school district.
Seriously, no one would ever say, "Well, we really need to hold back that school district over in Overachievington. Their teachers are just too good. We can't provide that kind of education for everyone, so we need to tell them to just knock it off or we'll have to shut them down."
Am I missing something, or isn't that the same reasoning?
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Because of this, the question really shouldn't be "Is a charter school diverse?" The question should be "Is our society diverse?" We know the answer to that question. It's not enough to ask whether a charter school reflects the diversity of its neighborhood. Perhaps it's better if it doesn't. Perhaps a charter school being different creates enough diversity by itself.
In other words, another value of charter schools can be that even if the school itself is homogeneous, it creates diversity in the educational landscape as a whole. I recognize there is a danger in saying that. I could be taken as justifying white flight. I'm not trying to do that. Let's take a type of charter school that is not in my every day experience. Let's say there is a Jewish or Islamic focused charter school. I would guess that these schools are not diverse in any sense of the word. However, they can, depending on their location and interaction with the community, be a beacon of diversity in the community. An Islamic charter school can bring greater attention to what Muslims are like to the surrounding community.
Perhaps a better example is the Rocky Mountain Deaf School in Golden, Colorado. This school is focused on the deaf and hard of hearing. In some ways, perhaps economically, it could be diverse. It could be racially diverse. However, because of the homogeneity of the group in another way, it makes a statement to the community. It creates a possibility that educators and the community might better understand the needs of deaf students.
Girls Athletic Leadership School in Denver, Colorado is another example. This all girls school that opens in the fall focuses on girls (DUH!). It also focuses on leadership and health issues. Athletics is used as a broad term there. It's not that every girl has to be a competitive athlete. It's that the body is important. Therefore, in a big way, this school is not diverse. However, for the general public it creates awareness of diversity. It creates awareness of the needs of girls. It creates awareness of the importance of "athletics" for everyone. The school makes a diverse statement.
I could go on with examples, but I think that these are examples that show us that we need to change our definition of what diversity is and what creates diversity. Sometimes diversity is best seen when a group of similar people come together to make a statement. Many statements of diversity in our society are like that. Why can't schools be like that? I'm not sure there is a way to deal with this in traditional public schools, but it's certainly something that charter schools can be good at, and perhaps they should be even better.
Monday, July 19, 2010
In some schools those things are true. In some schools all of those things are true.
However, since nothing is perfect, you have to contrast what exists with the alternative. In an interesting blog from about a year ago by Jeff Miller, Miller makes that point that state schools have a problem. Miller says that he came from an outstanding school district, but:
The problem with public education is that it does brainwash, and that it does this less by curriculum and lecture, and more by its mere existence, and the subtle bias that goes with it.
Most of us spend the bulk of our formative years in a public institution. We are told that the institution is essential for our development and that our attendance is compulsory. It becomes our social hub. We play sports there; we join clubs there. We develop our friendships, and later, our crushes there. The school competes with our family in the catalog of memories; for some, it probably wins.
Miller adds, "The State can teach math and science, I suppose; maybe English. It can teach gym, home economics, and shop. It can teach a number of things, sometimes competently, sometimes very well. But the State cannot teach about the State with the detachment necessary to do it right."
This is very interesting to me for a number of reasons. First, I don't like the term brainwash that he uses because that can be used against anyone who teaches. A parent cannot teach a child with detachment either.
However, the interesting point is what gives the state the right to teach about behavior, right and wrong. Some have accused charter schools founded by religious people of inculcating religious values as if there is some accepted group of non-religious values that ought to be taught or as if religious values necessarily contradict non-religious values.
Charter schools, by definition, have to teach values. as does any organization. Even if it doesn't teach values, its leaders and teachers model values. Because charter schools are state entities, they cannot (or at least ought not) teach specifically religious or theological truths as truths. Most of us understand that. However, coming up with the character education necessary to educate human beings (not automatons) is a challenge. It will involve disagreement.
Miller's point, I think, is that when you have the state determining those values, it is biased and will tend to promote values that perpetuate the state. It's clear the both the current president and our last president influenced the values taught to children (and to adults). That is the nature of many passionate politicians. The good ones are motivated by right and wrong. It may not appear that way some time, but their goal is to pass on their values to the rest of us. That's why we have debates about liberty both social and economic. That's why we have debates about whether or not government intervention in the market is a good thing.
If the state regulates the values taught in school, it's possible (likely?) that those values are merely what the state wants people to believe. So, you don't want socialism, you make sure that socialism is not acceptable. Oh, you can talk about it. You don't want libertarianism, you make sure that it's not acceptable. You can do that in many ways. Teachers can question a child incessantly or even make snide remarks or embarrass kids in class.
Years ago in The Naked Public Square Richard John Neuhaus made a similar point. I'm not sure why I remember it now, but he talked about how democracy is always a conversation within democracy. Therefore, there is never a real option for change. It's fine to even criticize democracy, but don't ever think about actually changing it. That would be revolution.
So, why am I rambling about this in a blog about charter schools (more importantly, why are you still reading this)? It's because charter schools give one level of separation away from the traditional state schools that Miller describes. In a charter school, it's fair to question things like democracy. While some charter schools have values that are "conservative," I know many whose values are "liberal"--more liberal than the average democrat would be willing to stomach. I know of a charter school in New York whose leader is an anarchist.
Miller's point is that state schools can't teach values from an objective standpoint. My point is that I don't believe anyone can. We are all conditioned by our own beliefs. Some would say, "That's the point. That's why kids have to be exposed to diverse populations." The problem is that itself is a value judgment.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Many charter school parents and advocates are disgruntled with public education. Some are extremely disgruntled. I quoted from a blog the other day by people that are not only practically concerned about public education, but also philosophically concerned with the entire operation. I worked at a charter school in which some parents expressed that philosophical disgruntledness. (OK, so I'm making up words as I go along.) They don't think that the government should tell parents how their children should be educated. They don't think that the government should operate public schools. They believe that is more of a conflict of interest than when parents operate their own schools. That's why they believe in charter schools.
Others are disgruntled because of practical matters. They don't care if government runs schools, but they see the government not taking steps to do what they can, even with the "limited" resources that they have.
I have to admit. There are things that cause me to be disgruntled about public education, but those aren't all the things that have made me a charter advocate. In fact, I'm pretty gruntled with my local school district, and many of the districts around my area. One of the districts near me just instituted one of the most radical teacher pay systems around. I hope it's wildly successful. I hope that great teachers get paid really well to do great work with kids. I really don't want to see public education fail. In fact, I wish there were no need for charter schools based on those practical issues such as "are kids getting educated in school?" I would be the first one to jump up and down if, not because of the failure of charter schools, public schools would show huge gains in educating kids.
However, I have to admit, I am gruntled that the government also has allowed charter schools because of the innovation that they can (even if they do not always) provide. Great schools with outstanding hands on, project based learning or readings in the classics or outstanding science and engineering programs have changed the lives of many children. Granted this may only be roughly 20% to 30% of charter schools. However, they serve as a model to show that all children can learn. No longer can any school use the argument that "our kids are difficult" to say that kids can't learn. It may be more difficult, and it may require different methods or better teachers or better administrators or better superintendents, but it can be done.
So, I'm gruntled with both traditional public education and charter school public education in different ways. Instead of tearing at each other generically, let's focus on what's not serving kids and focus on what does serve kids. Charter schools may not be the panacea that some hoped, but they have provided some good stuff for many kids. Let's all get gruntled with public education.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
That seems strange to me because I think the movie teaches that charter schools often succeed by requiring work out of students and that the lottery is the ticket to get into schools that require more work--work that the existing public schools may not be requiring. The lottery or "hand of God" is that only some kids can get into the high performing schools. The high performing schools are not high performing because they are just nice places to be. Teachers and kids work hard.
Perhaps that's not made clear enough to kids, but I think it is. I've done some work for Atlas Preparatory School in Colorado Springs. This is anecdotal, but I know that their two biggest problems with enrollment are 1. parents and transportation needs and 2. parents that don't understand how hard their kids will have to work at the school. I know that the leaders of Atlas Prep attempt to explain to parents that this isn't magic. Their students will have to work hard. Unfortunately, Atlas Prep does not have to hold a lottery yet, but after a few years, if they are successful, that might change. If it does, it won't be because the charter school has taught kids to rely on the "hand of God." It will be because the model of hard work has shown a pay off for which parents and students are willing to make sacrifices.
In this world in which many charter schools struggle to either manage their finances correctly or to comply with state law or reporting requirements, CSMC's goal is to handle those services for schools in a cost effective manner. Rather than each school recreating the wheel for itself, CSMC provides consistent financial management solutions.
So, CSMC is not an EMO. I've had some people send me emails or comment on this blog about my vested interest in EMOs. While I have nothing against EMOs, in general, I also want to make sure that everyone knows that I don't work for an EMO.
Because CSMC is charter school specific, I do have a vested interest in charter schools. That doesn't mean that I couldn't find something to do if charter schools ceased to exist. It does mean that CSMC wouldn't have a very good customer base.
CSMC only handles the back office services for schools, and we do it as efficiently as possible. We do not manage the board. In fact, we advise the board, and the board makes all its own decisions. We can assist with finding financing, but we do not provide financing. Our goal is to partner with schools so that they can manage the education and so that we can take all of the back office and reporting requirements off their plates.
To brag just a little bit, we believe that we are the largest provider of outsourced financial services in the country. We serve over 100 schools and want to expand. We've recently brought on schools in Colorado and in Florida.
So, I hope that clears things up for those of you who think I'm tied to an EMO. In addition, for those of you just reading out of curiosity, if you or any school you know of needs financial management services or wants to see if they can save money on financial services visit our web site to learn more. We're likely coming to your state soon.
The conference includes speakers such as Jeane Allen, President of the Center for Education Reform, Bob Bowdon, producer of The Cartel, and Derrell Bradford, Executive Director of Excellent Education for Everyone.
It looks like fun. I wish I could go, but I'll be in Florida at the beginning of that week and helping schools in Colorado at the end of the week.
If you are interested, it is August 11-13.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Aside from the fact, that the blog uses "government schools" versus "charter schools" I found the comment about the "quality of education" intriguing. Even as a proponent of charter schools, I have to admit that the test scores of schools are mixed. The Stanford report has been referenced far too often as authoritative by those on both sides of the debate. Some charter schools far exceed their local area schools. Many are middle of the road.
However, the author of the blog says, "quality of education." What is the quality of education to which the author refers. Recent pro-school choice movies have suggested that even when charter schools are similar is test outcomes, they provide better environments. Charter schools often emphasize character education and enforce it better than local schools. Some have claimed that charters provide safer environments, especially in urban areas.
If that is true, then perhaps charter schools do provide a better "quality" education, which would increase the arguments in favor of charters even if test scores did not exceed their neighboring peers.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
In addition, another problem is that successful charter schools "got to shake things up" in the words of Bill Gates. The other problem is that good charter schools put students first. Gates also believes that this is a key of good schools.
While teachers are important, it's good teachers that are important, not all teachers. If a school doesn't put students first, then it isn't doing it's job and it must revise it's methods or else it will fail and will need to be closed.
Perhaps a problem with charter schools (as outlined in the editorial) is that often charter schools, once started, are difficult to close. Parents become attached to their schools, even if the school is not prvoding a good education for their children. Politicians and other leaders who are in charge of closing schools have a tough task. Just as teachers do not want to be judged on the test scores of their students, perhaps we need to find other ways to judge schools. This begs the question of what are the best ways and the most objective ways to determine when a school needs to be closed.
There is no question that not all charter schools should continue to exist. The question is what is the measure and how much leash do they get before they are put down.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
One of my friends is a public non-charter school teacher. The other is a private high school teacher. Both had many questions about charter schools--what they do, how are they different, why they exist, why proponents think they need to exist.
It interested me for a number of reasons.
1. these very bright people both knew little about charter schools, in general.
2. what they did know came largely from conversations with friends and co-workers who had experiences from charter schools.
Why is that interesting?
It means that charter schools, even having been around for 20 years, are not well understood even in the education field.
It was also interesting because some of the stories had to do with dissatisfied parents. That was interesting because they didn't tell stories about parents dissatisfied with the public schools, but with their charter schools.
My evidence is only anecdotal, but it does seem as if charter schools tend to attract dissatisfied parents. There is evidence that about 15% of people are never satisfied. Could it be that this percentage is higher in charter schools because the 15% that is always dissatisfied from public schools attends charter schools?
Friday, July 9, 2010
I believe that both charter school desires for new and creative ways to reward teachers as well as the political emphasis on alternative pay programs spurred the interest.
It is nice to see that so many leaders are looking to develop better models and fairer models of paying effective teachers.
Friday, July 2, 2010
The Chicago conference drew over 4,000 participants. Many of whom stayed to hear the announcement.
Nelson Smith led the organization through a period that not only saw great growth in charter schools, but also saw the Alliance produce statements defining model charter school laws as well as model charter school authorization.
Groff had been a Colorado senator prior to taking the position last year at the U.S. Department of Education. Groff led the way on pro-charter school legislation in the state.
Based on my experience as a Coloradan and having seen Mr. Groff at work. I anticipate Groff continuing the effort to produce statements on the way charter schools ought to act to succeed as well as support legislation to equalize finance and revenue for charter schools.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
I did manage to get dinner by the Chicago River and walk down to the Navy Pier in on my last night. It was a beautiful night and we lucked out at saw the fireworks just before we went back to our hotel to crash.
It's clear from our presentation on organizational life cycles and charter schools that many schools, even those that have been around for a while, still struggle with life cycle issues. There appear to be two reasons that they struggle.
One is that they don't think in terms of life cycles. The second is that they do not ever really get to a stable stage and so they often skip stability and go straigh to stagnation or even decline.
Successfully negotiating the stages of the life cycle is so important to any organization, but it's especially important for charter schools. As they grow their educational program, they also need to grow and make their administrative processes more professional. As they hit stability, they need to recognize the oncoming signs of stagnation and hopefully begin renewing their school and processes before they enter decline, but at least before they are forced to restart or close.
Our attendees from both start up schools and mature schools (one attendee was from a school that has ten campuses and has been around for about 14 years). All found something interesting to comment on or ask questions about.
We enjoyed that session almost as much as our strategic compensation session, but more on that tomorrow.