So Let Me Talk to You About Charters Because You Left Some Stuff Out

Dear Mr. Tillotson,

I read your article on Education Post. Bravo for the good, but your statistics are not conclusive and you left out some issues that I think deserve a little sunlight. I would welcome your comments.

  • Class based and race based filters are an insufficient argument for the absence of other filters. Even if your schools are teaching the “exact same kids”, this could only be true for several years after opening (unless it is a community based charter in which parent involvement is not a filter and all the children from that neighborhood are attendees). I’m all in favor of a school that does well by its kids, but I’m not in favor of a school that argues that it provides the superior education while using parent involvement and informal filters to avoid the difficult to teach.  Only a profiler, or perhaps someone who has never taught poor minority kids, thinks that race and class equates to the same kid. It does not.
  • Secondly, you don’t have to expel a child to remove one who accidentally gets through the parent or informal filters. You can suspend them to death until finally their parent removes them voluntarily. Urban Prep is a perfect example of how this works. They boasted a 100% graduation rate for seven out of seven years. Is that accurate? 60% of the entering class left the school before they graduated.And even more telling, one third of the junior class left just before senior year! So, the school graduated 100% of 40% of the entering student body. Or 66% of the junior class. Did the school have a 100% graduation rate? A 66% graduation rate? A 40% graduation rate? A schools’ suspension and attrition rate irrespective of expulsion puts a graduation rate into better perspective.
  • Third, the bar for what is considered a good school is an accountability measure doesn’t always deliver. HST reduces success factors to an easy number on a spreadsheet. It is a marketing tool rather than a guarantee of high quality education. For example, Success Academy boasts very high scores on their 3-8 tests (They beat out Scarsdale and Bronxville, our version of Hillcrest), but so far they’ve only gotten six students into NYC selective high schools on the state test. They don’t even publish their regents pass rates (you know what that means). In essence, their students are being prepared for a single test which supports the adults and the school mission of growing more schools but does not support the futures of the children who go to them. To what extent do great test scores in 3-8 translate into college graduation rates or well prepared kids who can navigate a more diverse set of tests for living? This is of concern for parents, but also in the public interest. Returning to the Success Academy case, several videos and exposes that I’m sure we’re all familiar with illustrate just how concerning their metholodogy is. This brings us to an additional issue
  • We should be paying very close attention to the education provided in charter schools separate from the test scores they deliver. The early education of citizens impacts everything from whether those citizens can navigate and participate fully in the society around them to what they believe and whether they can think critically and independently.  Success Academy certainly needs investigation, but so do schools that are entirely independent of public scrutiny. What are these schools teaching? Should we allow public dollars to pay for an education that teaches bias or false science, for example?
  • What about the issue of school financing? Supporting charters that pull money from public schools as they teach the children who do not meet the charter bar is immoral. The idea that children should be victims of market correction is so horrendous as to turn its advocates into monsters. No one with even the slightest understanding of school finance thinks that children personally receive the dollars that are attributed to them. So, when you take money from a public school, you are taking a nurse or a librarian or increasing class size or removing a program that enriched children. It is nothing less than that. The charter in this case becomes parasitical in its relationship to the public school. It eats its host while the host is living. Someone should care about that. I know I do.
  • Finally, charters should not be able to make an end run around professional standing and the right of all workers to sustainable work and fair compensation. Children first is not identical to adults can be exploited. I must support teachers as the professionals who have the closest relationship to children and the ones who deliver the core duty of schools. So, that leads me to ask about the professional status and attrition rate of teachers in your schools. Disclaimer: I shouldn’t have to say this, but for context: I am a teacher who works at least a 12 hour day almost every day of the week and through part of every weekend. My students have unfettered access to me online. No one who works with me would accuse me of being a slacker. I don’t happen to have children which makes it easier for me to obsess about my work.  Okay. Now that we have that out of the way… No public school including charters should be able to elect not to pay teachers a middle class salary that increases with their years of service or use them as fodder for a machine. The attrition rate of teachers in your schools matter. Their hours matter. Their voice at the table of decision making matters. Their ability to have families and participate fully in the culture that they are helping to create matters.  They shouldn’t have to be childless in order to be a teacher, nor should they have to sacrifice their children for someone else’s.  They should not be desirable only so long as they have no other obligation or life concerns.  They have the right to see their wages increase with experience and expertise without worrying that it makes them undesirables to the bean counters that weigh them in terms of costs to the school.

So that’s it for today. I just thought I’d mention these issues which you don’t bring up.

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2 Responses to So Let Me Talk to You About Charters Because You Left Some Stuff Out

  1. Dirk Tillotson says:

    1. the schools I know most about learning without limits and ascend are conversions from the district, and maintained the original attendance areas- so it literally is the same kids– except we dont expel anyone (as opposed to the district). Working with kids for over 25 years I ma pretty familiar with the issues they face
    2. I have been a critic of Success- you can look at the missions for the schools I mention– all talk about the individual development of students- and they focus on self realization for kids– look at the Ascend ot LWL websites
    3. same as above- never been a fan of success and a critic of test based accountability
    4. the traditional public schools have not consistently served poor Black and Brown students, and in some cases disserved them, as a taxpayer I want my money to go where it serves kids- charter or traditional district– the sector is less important than the results for students and families
    5. Ascend and LWL have lower attrition rates of teacher than the district does- you can dig through the renewal reports to find it–today int he paper it was it came out OUSD’s rate is 73% retention, and have recognized the labor issues pretty explicitly
    nobody is saying charters are perfect or monolithic- there is good bad and ugly– same as with the traditional public schools

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