I have actually visited a lot of public and charter schools here in DC, both as a student myself many decades ago, as a parent of two kids who went through DCPS K-12 from roughly 1985 through 1999 and who graduated from two of our magnet schools; as a teacher myself and many-time coach of various MathCounts teams; as the son of a former itinerant art teacher, and as a mentor and observer in numerous secondary and middle schools, both in the charter and regular public schools; and the husband of a current Pre-K DCPS teacher; and the grand dad of an almost 2-year-old whose parents are trying to figure out what to do with her next year. And a volunteer at Brookland Bunker Hill. And my siblings and friends attended a variety of public and private schools here in DC. And my 4X great aunt, Louise Plessner Pollock, established the very first kindergarten normal school here in DC.
Seems to me that Ravitch and Greene are partly wrong: there are about five ‘innovations’ that charter schools are mostly trying out. But I don’t think they are good ones that are going to solve our real problems. Nor are they actually innovations.
Here is what I see:
If you want to be a successful charter school, you must:
1. Carefully screen your incoming students by various subtle methods that exclude the students most difficult to educate. (Hint: the longer the application process, and the more steps of any sort, the more you exclude the students whose parents are in prison, dead, or otherwise mentally or physically incapacitated or ev en flat-out illiterate, innumerate, or not tech-savvy.) Of course, that means that the kids who are the most at risk are not served. (As you can see on my blog, virtually all the schools in DC that have a population that is officially greater than 70% at risk are DC public schools, not charters.) When I look at the profiles of the public and charter schools, it seems we have once again devolved into a segregated system like the one I attended here in DC and Montgomery County Md in the 1950s and early 1960s. We have a handful of largely-white, low-percentage-of-high-risk schools in Upper Caucasia (JKLMMO and Deal and Wilson) joined by a handful of magnet schools (Walls, Banneker, Ellington and now Basis) and a small handful of charter schools that attract groups of white applicants (eg Yu Ying & 2 Rivers) and then there are a bunch of charters in the middle, and then there are almost-all-black and almost-all-at-risk schools in far southeast or southwest. See https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/a-closer-look-at-charter-and-regular-public-school-enrollments-percentages-of-students-at-risk-and-percentages-of-students-proficient/ for details and graph and spreadsheet with all the details.
2. (For most of them – there are a few exceptions) Use really heavy-handed education methods that do not allow room for any creativity or choice on the part of the students — precisely the type of pedagogy that is utterly forbidden to public schools. If a teacher at a public school required a student to stay at his or her desk until he/she soiled their garments, that teacher would be fired immediately and held up for public ridicule. At Eva Moskowitz’s ‘Success Academies” in NYC, that teacher is exemplary. As would have been the case of a teacher in a novel by Charles Dickens.
3. Really high suspension (in-school, out-of-school) and expulsion rates and heavy recommendations to parents to transfer their children out if they are getting in trouble a lot, not doing the heavy work load, etc. If a student misbehaves, then there are serious and progressive punitive codes that are in fact enforced. Note: all of those methods are, again, strictly forbidden to DCPS teachers. if they report a kid for fighting, swearing, or even breaking things or hurting other students or an adult in the classroom, the constant response of DCPS administration is to blame the teacher, no matter what, for not being able to solve the problem by his/herself WITH NO SUPPORT from anyone. DCPS administrators suspend almost nobody at all. What’s more, if a DCPS teacher places his/her hands on a student for any reason, even to pull two kids apart who are really fighting, will often trigger a fomal accusation of ‘corporal punishment’. Agreed that what we have in DCPS is utterly insane, but is what they have in the charter schools so wonderful? Surely there is something much more innovative to be discovered. Hmm, what do they do at schools like Sidwell or Phillips Andover?
4. Not accept any students at all after september and even after the beginning of a strand of grades (eg nobody after 6th grade in middle school, nobody after 9th grade in HS, and so on; details will vary). This is not a progressive reform. So where do the kids go (somewhere between 5 and 30% per year, depending on the DC charter school, who are pushed out of almost every single DC charter school over the course of a school year? Well, either they drop out of school entirely, move to another state, or enroll in another DC public school. And the latter MUST take them. Excuse me – what kind of reform is hat?
5. Hire young kids as teachers right out of college with no work or real-world or education experience at all, push them to work 10- to 14-hour days, 6 or 7 days a week, all year round, with minimal training, and expect them to follow a script until they burn out. After a year or two, they quit or are fired in despair and exhaustion, or else they perceive this as the harassment you need to pass through on their way to being another Eva Moskowitz with an annual salary (before extra perks and benefits) of half-a-million dollars… This sort of educational model is what we used to have on the Ameican frontier (think of what school was like in Tom Sawyer) and before teachers actually attempted to become, ya know, professionals who studied their craft and asked for some autonomy and say-so over curriculum, etc. Gadzounds! We can’t have that! Only the 1% should have any autonomy! Teachers should toe the line of their bosses — and it makes no difference if their bosses (Duncan, Moskowitz, Kopp, etc have never, ever taught in their entire lives, or if the ones who did (MRhee for example) faked all the amazing claims their resumes or had someone else write their ‘doctoral’ dissertation (Steven Perry for example) or if they are flat-out grifters (Kent Amos for example). But this is no longer unique to charter schools – DC public schools now have the situation where the typical (modal) teacher has 0, 1, or 2 years of experience. This saves a lot of money because those teachers will soon be fired or quit, will never reach promised salaries of $100K after 30 years, and will never collect a pension. But they can go back to live in their parents’ basement, waiting tables or doing temp jobs, trying to pay off their student loans, which not even bankruptcy will erase…
6. Have a really, really long school day and school week. Don’t emulate Finland, but rather Korea. Chavez SPPPCS for example coops its kids into a single room from 7:30 to about 5:00 every single day. The only time they get to leave the room is if they need to go to the bathroom, or to get their wrapped-up lunch or breakfast burgers from a cart right outside the door. Once or twice a week there is a ‘special’ class like PE. Now, some charters actually have decent after-school programs like real sports or art or instrumental music, as well as study hall. I am in favor of extracurricular activities, but they do take specially trained staff and extra funds — both of which regular public schools are told to do without, naturally.
So these are what I see as the six major ‘innovations’ of charter schools. Sorry, but these are not acceptable.
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