January 29, 2014

Letter to Rethinking Schools

Here is a repost of a letter I just submitted to Rethinking Schools regarding an article from their Fall 2013 issue.  Will let you know if it gets published in the Summer issue.

Dear Rethinking Schools:
While I am neither a proponent or opponent of charter schools en masse, I have some issues concerning Stan Karp’s article on charter schools (“Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education,” fall 2013) 

     1) His point that charters have shifted away from “community-based, educator initiated local efforts designed to provide alternative approaches for a small number of students,” only highlights the efforts of national charters (e.g. KIPP, Mastery, Green Dot, et al) it does not take into account the significant numbers of local community based charters who do have the best interest of their students, parents and teachers at heart.  More importantly for some, it also does not highlight that there are an increasing number of charters who are unionized.

      2) If education advocates want to eliminate or greatly reduce the influence of high-stakes testing, why do people insist on using it as a metric to either praise (rarely) or critique (more often) charter schools?  There are a significant number of other metrics people can cite which articulate the distinctions between all types of healthy performing schools and those that are underperforming.  For example, parent satisfaction, college acceptance and student safety are but three metrics that could be used rather than exclusively high stakes test scores.

       3) It is my belief, perhaps naively, that charters were never created to “take over” a school district (acknowledging the extreme case of New Orleans as an exception).  I think it is more appropriate to view charters as a one mechanism in the toolbox of school choice, much like magnet schools, gifted programs, alternative schools for pregnant girls, etc, are options for students. Why do we spend so much effort on critiquing when we should be looking at best practices from all types of healthy performing schools?

          4) There is an explicit, 
         visceral response most people feel whenever the word “segregation” is discussed.  Images of Little Rock, the National Guard and vitriolic parents screaming racial epitaphs and hurling rocks at black children come to mind.  However, in this day and age there is a significant 
      difference between state sanctioned segregation and self-selection (e.g. the work of Freeden Oeur).  If schools are designed to serve neighborhoods, then it is imperative that we have an honest discussion about neighborhoods and their racial and socio-economic structure.  It appears as if this reasoning implies that white (or integrated) schools are the only types of schools that can best serve students of color.

Finally, parents and poverty.  Poverty seems to be the Progressive go to when it comes to critiquing educational choices.  Poverty of the mind, of options, and expectations for children in any educational setting, seems to be more problematic than the distressing financial poverty many students face.  While acknowledging and respecting the obstacles and immense challenges of being financially insecure, it is disrespectful to the sacrifices of hard working parents who want positive academic (and social) outcomes for their children, but who themselves remain in economic distress. 

When it comes to charters and school choice, we need to listen to, and perhaps observe, the choices parents are making.  Schools of any type cannot exist without students.  If there is a proliferation of charters and those charters are turning away students because of enlarged waiting lists, we have to examine why this is occurring.  Yes, it can be because of the influx of influential external forces, but it can also be community driven.  We must be able to have the conversation about both the inorganic and organic forces of school choice in a more honest and respectful manner. 

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