CA Charters (+ regular public schools) Need Real Accountability

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I’ve seen this petition floating around on Facebook, and I was planning to sign it. After all, why not? I work at a charter school, 4 out of my 5 years teaching have been at charter schools, and I believe in the charter philosophy of giving teachers voice, families choice, and using a “free market” idea to effect such agency.  Yet when I saw this message that I would be sending to my state assembly members and senator, I couldn’t help but scrutinize it.  Interestingly, Diane Ravitch just published a blog on Bernie Sander’s comments on charter schools and she just neatly outlined some issue with charters.  Anyway, below is part of the message that I disagreed with.

…I believe that charter schools are an integral part of our public education system… Hopefully you are well aware of the incredible things that charters are doing for students in communities like mine. If not, I urge you to visit our campuses, talk to teachers, meet with parents and students, and observe the classroom instruction and extracurricular programs. You’ll find a level of caring, a belief in every child’s potential and strong academic results that will inspire you. I can’t imagine ever losing my charter school. I hope and expect that public officials like you will do whatever it takes to protect great public schools like mine.

I don’t think charter schools are necessarily an “integral” part of our public education system. I think it makes public schools think and scramble, it allows us to try things more quickly than we might in a district school, but at the same time, if our public education system were functioning well, we wouldn’t need charters.

I wonder what this petition exactly desires.  Do we want more “support” from our State senators and assembly members?  What does that exactly entail?  What I would like is actually more scrutiny on charter schools.  After working at an especially heinous one, why can’t there be more surprise visits, more deep probing questions of students and their families?  In CA, charter schools gets their charters renewed every 5 years.  At some charter schools (like more current one), they take the opportunity to revisit their vision, recalibrate with the whole community (teachers, admin, students, families), and figure out why and how to move in a specific direction.  In other charter schools, they make teachers sign something (without specifying what the teacher is signing, and the teacher doesn’t really have a choice), they pause distasteful practices during the walk-throughs and visits, and shmooze with local politicians… and voila, a couple visits + high test scores and it’s given the CA stamp of approval.

That sucks.  And if that’s the continued way that CA is going to keep “supporting” charter schools, then I think they should just stop.  They should shackle down our system and slow everything down if it means that all students can be somewhere safe.

Actually, I take that back. Because it would just be horrific to send my kids to some crazy, huge high school instead of a small charter high school.  Yet at the same time, there area really awful charters out there!  And the worse part is they have very LITTLE scrutiny because they’re a charter — district schools have way more hoops to jump through!  I mean, why can’t we just carefully provide more resources, continue the small-schools movement (a la Oakland), and maybe even go that hybrid-charter route (like ASCEND), and just.. grow?  Why can’t CA stop being lazy and giving lip service to kids and give an actual hoot about their wellbeing?

Okay fine. Support our charter schools. But maybe also have some sort of hotline that we can call for when schools are heinous.  And then drop by randomly and watch it all unfold.  And ban schools that pride itself in giving students 1 hour of homework per subject and promote teachers to principals in 2 years.  Oh wait, our whole nation’s doing that? And we think it’s promoting bright innovation into school leadership?

Just great.

 

PS: I realized these past few years, as I continue to keep up with my students that part of the reason why few parents and students ever complain at these  really awful charter schools is because they have nothing else to compare it to.  To them, it’s normal for them to not have any say in the school’s decision to not observe MLK day, or have Spring Break school, or make kids wash the floor with toothbrushes, or take shoes off of kids, or not let parents talk to the teacher.  And coincidentally, most of the teachers at such schools are really new to the state or to teaching… so they don’t realize what’s up until they leave too.  I’m looking at you, Amethod Public Schools and American Indian Public Charter Schools. Seriously. Makes my blood curdle.

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