Tagged: charter schools

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Recommended Reading: “The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio”

favicon The battle is heating up, especially in New York City, between populism and liberalism, and what’s the best way to reform education. That’s how I characterize (maybe incorrectly: the populists would call the liberals “corporatists”) the debate between Mayor Bill de Blasio (conventional public schools) and Eva Moskowitz (charter schools).

If you read today’s article in the New York Times, “The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio,” it looks like charter schools are winning.

But if you read Diane Ravitch’s response, author Daniel Bergner didn’t tell the whole story. Lately I’ve found Ms. Ravitch’s writing strident, but she makes excellent points, emphasizing that Ms. Moskowitz’s schools—and really, all charter schools—aren’t truly “public.”

The problem right now with Ms. Ravitch’s camp—and why the liberal, data-driven, no-excuses school reformers are winning the battle—is that decades of traditional public schooling have not done a good job addressing issues of equity. Unfortunately, right now, populism doesn’t quite “sell.”

Please let me know what you think!

“One afternoon this summer, Eva Moskowitz, who runs Success Academy Charter Schools, showed me her senior yearbook. “I was the editor,” she said. We sat in a half-furnished office at the construction site of her charter network’s first high school. A buzz saw shrieked in the background.”

Source: http://j.mp/1AnJ1XC (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

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Recommended Reading: “The Original Charter School Vision”

favicon This morning I read a well-written and mostly-neutral short history of the charter school movement. In “The Original Charter School Vision,” Richard D. Kahlenberg and Halley Potter outline how charter schools have developed over the past couple decades.

Charter schools remain confusing and controversial. Critics argue that charter schools worsen racial segregation. Others decry high staff turnover (twice the rate vs. other public schools) and the lack of unions. For others, the lack of unions is a positive. Because they’re fairly new, charter schools are right in the middle of the education debate fusillade. Depending on whom you ask, charter schools are either the best or worst things ever.

It’s weird: I’m usually a reflecting kind of guy, but I don’t spend too much time ruminating on my work in charter schools over the past 15 years. Where I’ve worked, we’ve focused on the students the traditional system, in general, has overlooked. And that’s where I want to be.

“ALTHOUGH the leaders of teachers unions and charter schools are often in warring camps today, the original vision for charter schools came from Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.”

Source: http://j.mp/1vWX45V (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

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Recommended Reading: “A Walmart Fortune, Spreading Charter Schools”

favicon Motoko Rich makes another excellent contribution to reporting about the charter school movement. In “A Walmart Fortune, Spreading Charter Schools,” Ms. Rich tracks the Walmart Foundation’s investments to large charter networks, like the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP).

“WASHINGTON — DC Prep operates four charter schools here with 1,200 students in preschool through eighth grade. The schools, whose students are mostly poor and black, are among the highest performing in Washington.”

Ms. Rich reports that the majority of students in Washington D.C. now attend charters. That’s astounding. The same is true, I believe, in New Orleans.

She also succinctly summarizes the criticism of charter schools:

Critics say that Walton backs schools and measures that take public dollars — and, some say, the most motivated families — away from the existing public schools, effectively creating a two-tier educational system that could hurt the students most in need

I’ve worked in charter schools for most of my career. But they haven’t been part of a large charter network. There is a difference, I think. Part of the difference, of course, is how much backing a large network can get. But especially interesting to me is how few really, really rich people are funding and therefore orchestrating this nationwide movement.

The past month or so, whenever I read about private funding for charter schools, it’s always the same people. And the Walton Foundation is at the front. As Ms. Rich reports, the funding goes from Walton to Teach for America to KIPP, with a little left over for New Leaders for New Schools.

Source: http://j.mp/1hATMMj. You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

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Problem: American schools. Scapegoat: Charter schools.

Education Conceptfavicon The school year has just begun, and already, things are getting hot.

Since Motoko Rich’s excellent article, “At Charter Schools, Short Careers By Choice,” appeared last week in The New York Times, the backlash against charter schools has intensified.

According to these traditional public school-only proponents, everything bad in education — flat test scores, the existence of standardized testing, the new Common Core State Standards, the short careers of beginning teachers — is the result of charter schools.

Diane Ravitch, the respected historian and professor, is leading the charge. She has long championed public schools, teachers unions, and public school teachers. I read and enjoyed The Death and Life of the Great American School SystemHow Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. Prof. Ravitch knows what she’s talking about; she doesn’t simplify the situation into tidy soundbites.

Unfortunately, others do. For example, here are a couple articles I’ve read this week:

An Unexpected Charter School Effect: Fewer Experienced Teachers
By Stan Alcorn, Fast Company

Mr. Alcorn refers to Ms. Rich’s article, excoriates a young teacher who may seek a leadership position after just a few years teaching, and argues that the rise of charter schools has led directly to the trend of inexperienced teachers. To be sure, many charter schools do, in fact, employ young teachers who don’t spend their entire careers in the classroom. His statistic — that a charter school teacher averages just four years in the classroom vs. a traditional public school teacher’s 14 — is accurate. But just because two things exist (charter schools, short teacher careers), that doesn’t mean the first causes the second. For many years, teachers in urban schools have faced challenging conditions, and most lifers spend the majority of their careers in suburban schools. By no means am I a diehard proponent of charter schools. But I don’t appreciate it when non-educators dismiss, in four scornful paragraphs, the hard work of teachers trying to make things right among kids of color in urban schools.

American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids
By Elizabeth Weil, New Republic

On the flipside is this long, well-researched, well-written article that unfortunately also places blame in the wrong place. Ms. Weil tells the story of her nonconformist second-grade daughter who does not like to sit still in class. Instead of praising her creativity, her teacher suggests occupational therapy, and Ms. Weil and her partner are not pleased. That’s fine, but instead of finding fault at the classroom or school level, the author challenges several current trends in education, including socio-emotional learning and character development. Both, she argues, restrain children who don’t easily stay in their seats and raise their hands. Both limit students’ natural curiosity. And both, she points out, are taught in charter schools.

The problem with Ms. Weil’s piece is that it’s written well. It’s compelling. Even though charter schools are as diverse as public schools, she can make a universal claim and get away with it. She can casually mention KIPP in just one sentence and gain nods of approval by charter opponents. Just in case you might not think Ms. Weil is blaming charter schools, she quotes Prof. Ravitch and writes, “The motto of the so-called school-reform movement is: No Excuses.” “No Excuses,” of course, is code for charter schools.

Both of these articles — and much of the discourse this week — have been difficult to read. On the one hand, I agree with the authors that something is wrong with American education. It’s problematic, for example, that high-stakes standardized testing, ever since No Child Left Behind, has resulted in teacher bashing, drill-and-kill curriculum, and the demise of project-based learning. And certainly, I do not argue for privatizing education.

But on the other hand, charter schools themselves are not the cause of the problem. Whereas Mr. Alcorn and Ms. Weil — both non-educators — spend their time slamming charter schools, charter school educators are doing their best, after decades of abject inequity, to meet the needs of urban kids of color. And they do all that alongside efforts by similarly hard-working, well-intentioned people in traditional public schools.

Please, I welcome your comments, especially from those who disagree with me! favicon

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Background on the New York Times article

6a00d8341c6a7953ef014e8a0ca5c8970d-120wifavicon A few folks are asking how my recent article in The New York Times came to be. They want to know: Um, Mark, exactly how is it possible that the NYT deemed you a “knowledgeable outside contributor” qualified “to discuss news events and other timely issues?”

Well, I was definitely very, very lucky. Here is how it happened.

1. New York Times reporter Motoko Rich wrote “At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice,” in which she concluded that some charter networks are now comfortable hiring young teachers who plan to leave the profession for “bigger and better things” after just a few years in the classroom.

2. I was deeply disturbed by the article and wrote this post, “Are Charter Schools Youth Cults?” in Iserotope. It’s one thing to hire young teachers, work them senseless, churn them out, and know full well that they’ll leave quickly. It’s another thing — quite a pretentious, icky thing — to admit this publicly.

3. As I usually do, I shared my post on Twitter.

Up until now, everything was normal. After all, it’s not a strange thing for me to read something, have a reaction to it, and write about it (or put it up on Iserotope Extras). But then, a few hours later, things got interesting.

4. Ms. Rich tweeted me.

This might be silly to say, but that tweet made my day. A New York Times reporter thanked me for something I wrote and called my thoughts “nuanced?” Did that really happen? Yes, this was a Surreal Moment.

5. Loyal Iserotope readers offered excellent responses to the Iserotope post. Laura, Heidi, Angela, and Geoff pushed my thinking. In fact, some of their language appears in my article. (I am very grateful. They will receive royalties, for sure. 🙂 )

6. The New York Times’ Room for Debate editor Nick Fox emailed me, said he had read the post on Iserotope, and wondered if I would contribute a piece to an upcoming forum on whether teachers need experience to be effective. This was Surreal Moment No. 2.

I had to read the email three times to make sure I was understanding correctly. After I returned to my senses, I realized that this wasn’t just a general call for submissions. This was an editor asking me directly to write something for publication. It was to be 300-400 words, and it was due at 1 p.m. the next day.

7. I wrote a draft. As I wrote, there was joy, adrenaline, fear, and giddiness. The looming deadline got me a tad feverish. It reminded me of my time working on The Epitaph, my high school newspaper — an experience I’ll never forget. (Thanks, Nick!)

8. Not wanting to be fired by my new (and old — more about that in a later post) employer, I ran the article by the director of development to ensure I wasn’t saying anything inappropriate. Kate gave me the OK and even spent time tightening the piece, just minutes before deadline, via Google Docs.

9. I filed the article…and waited. And passed the time. And crossed my fingers. Until, that night, my article was published in Room for Debate. This was Surreal Moment No. 3. Jubilation ensued.

It’s a great feeling, to be sure, and it makes me want to write more — not just for my own personal goals, but also to make sure that teachers have a voice in this conversation. I might not be in the classroom anymore, but I hope that my perspective is one that respects and honors teachers and the work they do. It’s crucial that teachers get their words out there. I hope you enjoy the article! favicon

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Hi there! I’m in The New York Times!

nytimesfavicon I really can’t believe it’s true, but it is!

It’s really my name, and it’s really my words, and it’s all in The New York Times.

Ever since third grade, when my best friend and I founded the Mark Isero and Robbie Greene’s Chronicle, which covered, among other things, playground races and the annual school checkers tournament, I’ve always wanted to be published in a real newspaper.

Now it’s happened — and in The New York Times, no less, the newspaper I’ve admired since signing up for a subscription on my first day of college.

Can you tell I’m excited?

My piece is in The New York Times’ online forum, Room for Debate, which “invites knowledgeable outside contributors to discuss news events and other timely issues.”

Today’s topic was, “Do teachers need to have experience?” I suppose I’m a “knowledgeable outside contributor,” because here’s my article!

I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity, and particularly appreciative of Laura, Heidi, Angela, and Geoff, whose comments to my recent post helped shape my thoughts.

It’s all a dream come true.

Please let me know what you think — whether that’s here in the comments or on the Iserotope Facebook page. Stay posted for more info coming soon. favicon

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Are charter schools youth cults?

favicon We all know that charter schools tend to have younger, less experienced teachers than their traditional counterparts. And there are pros and cons to that.

But this morning, I read an article in the New York Times that left a pit in my stomach. In the piece, “At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice,” reporter Motoko Rich concludes that charter schools foster an environment whereby it’s acceptable, and even welcomed, for teachers to stay in the classroom for a very short time before moving up to become an administrator or pursuing a more lucrative, prestigious profession.

Ms. Rich calls charter schools “youth cults.” That’s a provocative statement.

I’ve worked in charter schools for 14 out of my 17 years of teaching, so I understand their demands. In my 20s, I routinely worked 70 to 80 hours a week. At my school in San Francisco, we were young, and sometimes, we were tired. But rather than encouraging teachers to leave after a couple years, our school talked about sustainability. It’s a good thing, we believed, for students to have teachers with full lives, including families and outside interests. It’s a good thing for students to have teachers from diverse backgrounds. As a result, our school made changes, including adopting a salary schedule to encourage teachers to stick around for more than five years.

Now I’m learning that my experience was a rare one. In the past few years, big and powerful charter school networks have grown stronger. As a result, they no longer have to hide the truth. Check out what Jennifer Hines, a senior administrator of a Houston-based charter network, said:

There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.

On the one hand, it’s comforting that there is truth-telling. On the other, as someone who taught for a long time and who still believes in the importance of the classroom teacher, I think it’s hugely bothersome. Also annoying: her language, which comes across across to me as too careful (e.g., “certain comfort level,” “who are perhaps,” “stay forever”). That’s a calculating sentence.

In the article, Ms. Rich goes on to profile a 24-year-old teacher, Tyler Dowdy, who is in his third year and is already looking for the next new thing. My first reaction was, That doesn’t seem to be a problem. My first school (not a charter school) made me a leader in my second month. But then came this quotation at the end:

I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing and always moving onto something bigger and better.

All I have to say is, Ugh, ugh, ugh. Like, a major ugh. There is so much wrong with that quotation. (Ms. Rich is likely very pleased to have gotten it.) There is so much pretension, so much privilege, and so much condescension in that statement.

Nonetheless, I can’t entirely blame Mr. Dowdy. He’s just a young teacher who is hard-working and smart and maybe unaware of the complexity of public schooling. That’s because he’s worked at a school with an expectation that matches his own.

(Yes, I just sounded old and curmudgeonly and jaded there! Sorry about that.)

Rather, maybe the problem is not with young people who want to teach for a few years and then become principals or doctors. As Ms. Rich suggests, perhaps the problem is with charter school networks and organizations like Teach for America, which “churn out” teachers, according to charter school detractor Diane Ravitch.

But even if that’s true, I’m not sure what the answer is. There’s too much of an either-or dialogue going on: either we stick entirely with the public school system, along with all of its faults, or we move toward more charter schools, along with their faults. I do wonder why we can’t figure out something somewhere in the middle that meets the needs of more young people.

What do you think? favicon

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CCSA’s last-minute effort to close Leadership High School

favicon Last Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Education unanimously voted to renew Leadership High School’s charter for the next five years.

The 7-0 vote was unprecedented and demonstrated the Board’s confidence in the school’s track record. The renewal championed the democratic process. After all, charter schools are public schools and are accountable by law to their districts.

Don’t say this, though, to the California Charter Schools Association, which publicly called for the closure of Leadership High School in December.

Just in case the SFUSD Board did not receive its first memo, the CCSA made sure last Tuesday — on the day of the vote — to send Superintendent Carlos Garcia and the Board a seven-page letter advocating the school’s closure.

Here is the introduction to the last-minute letter:

We understand that the Board of Education of the San Francisco Unified School District will be considering the renewal of the Leadership High charter petition (Charter) today. We urge you to consider data related to the Charter’s poor academic performance, as explained more fully below, and deny the Charter renewal.

CCSA senior vice presidents Gary Borden and Myrna Castrejon go on to provide tables and charts explaining their rationale. At one point, they ask the Board to consider the organization’s own metrics of performance rather than relying on state law:

We recommend that the district take into account CCSA’s data analysis because current statutory renewal eligibility requirements do not provide an adequate evaluation of a charter school’s academic performance.

At the end of the letter, however, Borden and Castrejon reverse themselves and call on the superintendent and commissioners to act in order to preserve state law:

Ultimately, the intent of the Charter Schools Act cannot be fulfilled if charter schools do not improve pupil learning and increase learning opportunities for all pupils.

This extraordinary last-minute letter did nothing to sway the commissioners. In fact, the CCSA’s strategy backfired. President Norman Yee suggested that CCSA staff members should consider visiting the school themselves. Even more striking, Commissioner Jill Wynns, who does not support charter schools on principle, also voted yes to the renewal. In fact, Wynns said she would normally be inclined not to vote for renewal but did not appreciate CCSA’s political attack.

I am proud of the SFUSD Board of Education for doing its job — for visiting Leadership High School, considering the experiences of students and parents, and doing the necessary research to make an informed decision.

It is true that not all charter schools are performing well, and some deserve to close. Nevertheless, the CCSA’s approach is needlessly aggressive and reckless. Instead of issuing public calls for closure and sending last-minute letters to encourage district boards of education to close down schools, the CCSA should honor current law and the accountability process that currently exists. favicon

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CCSA’s public call for charter school closures is wrong

favicon The California Charter Schools Association last Thursday called for the closure of Leadership High School and nine other charter schools in the state, citing academic underperformance.

CCSA President Jed Wallace said that the organization is “taking a lead role in ensuring appropriate academic accountability” by “establishing clear and transparent academic performance expectations for charter schools.”

I don’t have a problem with the organization weighing in on the charter school conversation. After all, the CCSA is the state’s leading advocacy group for charter schools, and accountability is important.

Nevertheless, the CCSA’s unprecedented public call for the immediate closure of 10 schools is an aggressive move geared to garner political support, rather than to advocate for quality education. Here’s why the CCSA is wrong:

1. The CCSA recommends school closures on criteria not based on law. In setting up its “Minimum Criteria for Renewal,” the CCSA has created performance metrics that do not follow current California law (Education Code Section 47607). To justify its extralegal criteria, the organization cites Ed Code Section 47605(b), a more general provision, which stipulates that the district may issue requirements to ensure the school does not have an “unsound educational program.” Instead of relying on districts to interpret current law, the CCSA wishes to inject its own, new criteria without legislative consideration.

2. The CCSA does not trust local districts to evaluate their charter schools fairly. In its FAQ about the public call for non-renewal, the CCSA states that districts have applied existing criteria unevenly, which has resulted in “the re-authorization of charters that depart significantly from the statewide distribution of academic performance that would be considered acceptable.” In other words, local districts have made mistakes in renewing charter schools and should not be counted on to make the right decision. Even though the CCSA claims it does not want to become a regulatory agency with the authority to close schools, that’s exactly what’s happening here.

3. The CCSA wants to close schools because of test scores but questions their validity. When it comes to testing, the CCSA is all over the map. On the one hand, the CCSA argues that test scores are fundamental:

Our framework — measured by testing — is the ‘bones’ of a sound structure. Without the ‘bones,’ there is no foundation, no robustness, and nothing to hang all the other things we know to be important in a child’s education.

In another part of the FAQ, the CCSA states that test scores provide appropriate benchmarks and levels of performance to evaluate schools. That’s why the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) is CCSA’s leading criterion for its recommendation to close the 10 charter schools.

On the other hand, the organization discredits the Academic Performance Index as “not there yet” but hesitates  to call the system “useless.” Most interesting is that the CCSA replaces the state’s Similar Schools Rank with its own “Similar Schools Measure,” claiming that state results “fluctuate significantly from year to year” and “have limited use in assessing the soundness” of charter schools. In short, the CCSA is using part of the state’s assessment system but throwing out the rest, thus devising its own evaluation process.

4. The CCSA modified its initial list of failing schools to single out schools for immediate elimination. In its press release, the CCSA states that 31 schools, or 3.2 percent of the 982 charter schools in California, did not meet minimum criteria. Yet only 10 schools, just 1 percent, made its final list for closure. The reason for the shorter list, according to the CCSA, is that these 10 schools face charter renewal before June 2012. Therefore, instead of naming all failing schools, the CCSA targets a small percentage, based on new criteria, and offers no time to improve. In its quest to appear tough on school accountability, the CCSA orchestrated its final list to make it more palatable.

I teach at Leadership High School, so it makes sense that I’m critical of the CCSA’s public call to close my school. Still, it’s apparent that the organization is doing this for political gain and not to improve student achievement.

For the first time ever, the CCSA is going over the heads of its member schools and daring local districts to close them. I am hopeful that the SFUSD Board of Education will see through this political move and consider Leadership High School’s application based on its merits and charter school law, rather than on the CCSA’s misguided criteria.

What do you think? favicon