Thursday, February 2, 2012

Charter or Traditional: Making Kids Play Musical Schools Is Wrong

Here's a composite of conversations I've had with other education folks (and myself) about charter schools:

Q: Are you in favor of or against charter schools?

A: Well, I'd rather we didn't feel the need to have them in the first place. I have what I think are valid concerns about segregation, isolation, inequity, and denying appropriate and accessible education to special needs and ELL students.

Q: Okay, but they're here. Would you rather have them all closed and go back to the structure we had?

A: No, no. I acknowledge they're here to stay, for the foreseeable future at least. But if their existence is a reality, I'd rather they be community and educator-initiated, under the umbrella of and accountable to the districts and communities where they're located with no profit motive (as Chad Sansing describes here).

Q: Well, charters sometimes form because the home district is too rigid and too dysfunctional. Look at DC. Charters formed their own system entirely apart from DCPS precisely because they were fleeing the dysfunction of DCPS. Then charters grew in part because people got even more turned off by Rhee-form.

A: Yes, yes, I understand that. And I understand it's much easier to say, well, make the traditional district better, more responsive, than it is for that to actually happen any time soon. How long must families wait for that to occur? Now I get to ask a question: What happens when charter schools are largely unsuccessful according to the current accountability schemes with the same population the traditional, home district seemed to fail with?

I'll answer my own question. If we're just going to judge schools' success or necessity according to (in many cases poorly conceived) standardized test scores then it doesn't matter, if they're charter or traditional, we're not going to know how successful or unsuccessful any school is in improving the quality and meaning of the education for the students they are supposed to serve.

This is why I am against closing charter schools based on test scores, just as I am against closing neighborhood based on test scores. There is so much else to consider. The IDEA Public Charter School in DC serves students at-risk for dropping out. It faces closure. The school has been around for ten years. I've never stepped foot in the school, so I don't know what or how much those students are learning. I don't know if they're getting the best and most appropriate and meaningful education possible under the circumstances. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. Maybe it should be closed, maybe it shouldn't. But test scores alone most certainly don't tell me that either.

Just as when a neighborhood school closes, when a charter school that has become a fixture in a community, that the community is largely satisfied with, that fills a need that other schools don't, is closed, it will have a very negative effect on the student population and the community it serves. And what will then replace it?

Disruption as a goal is not a positive one for education. I don't care what kind of school they're in, kids and their families, especially those with enough disruption, crisis, and loss in their lives already, shouldn't be forced to play musical schools to the tune of "Get Those Test Scores Up." If that's our idea of reforming education, we're in big trouble.

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