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I'm sitting in St. Bernard Parish, LA proctoring a Saturday morning detention en masse and thinking about some of the trends in education along with proposed changes on the horizon.  I'm a certified teacher with a specialization in special education, and I work with students who are moderately to severely disabled for the most part.  Yes I am abashed to say that I do oversee Saturday morning detentions.  I love what I do and would never venture away from the Special Needs Community, but I do like to have some discretionary income, which requires some additional work if you live on a deep South teacher's salary or just about any teacher's salary for that matter.

So I'm looking at about eighteen somewhat disgruntled high school students this morning and reading the news, the Kos, but mostly just thinking.  Here in the Greater New Orleans Metro Area and in much of the country the trend in education is developing Charter Schools.  Now I've heard all of the campaign and stump speeches over the last year or two, and I certainly know all of the rhetoric on Charter schools and the "failing" public school systems.  

What really strikes a nerve with me as I observe some of these students is what happens when the Charter School doesn't admit them?  You see some of these students have behavior disorders, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, and that doesn't even begin to address the students that I work with on a daily basis that are not seeking a diploma but rather a basic academic and vocational course of study.  

Charter schools are a strange animal.  I've seen some that function in relation to admissions just like public schools, admitting anyone who applies, but many (especially the ones touted as the ultimate in excellence) have a more complicated admissions process than an Ivy League College accompanied by all the Bush style cronyism to boot.  So what happens when this trend becomes the everyday reality as many would like?  When my student who has significant cognitive delays, the heart of a saint, and the mechanical skills of an engineer applies, what do they do with him?  He needs academic shaping in that he desperately needs enough reading and math skills to make it in the job place, but he also desperately needs to enrich his abilities with machinery and woodworking to command a decent wage in this world.  Should he somehow be excluded from this wonderful world of Chater Schools because of his disability, effectively ignoring his gifts?  

Better yet, should he be admitted but only to the "leftovers" Charter on the opposite side of town with little or no resources?  If you don't think that the affluent schools full of local celeb's/politician's children won't get the most funding, you are being naive.  

Perhaps that is the point.  As a certified public educator I am no fundamentally opposed to Charters and the like, but I need to see significantly more equity than I do now.  This is not to say that there aren't inequities in the current system of course.  Gerrymandering and socioeconomic stratification are present in the public education system the country over, but perhaps never so intensely present as in our urban centers.  The point is still valid however that the admission system is open and prior to all this high-stakes testing "No Child Left Behind" nonsense funding was considerably more equitable.  

So I close knowing our system is certainly not perfect and not trying to debate everything that is wrong with education.  There aren't enough Satruday morning detentions in a lifetime for that discussion, but rather to just ask my initial question... " Where will my students go when Charter Schools are the school du jour?"

Originally posted to J Dewey on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 07:39 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I think of charter schools like the death penalty (6+ / 0-)

    I don't really oppose the principle (flame away, world)

    But the practice is so corrupt, so racist, so shoddy, that I want it stopped.

    It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

    by sayitaintso on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 07:44:47 AM PST

  •  BRAVO! was a success story. (4+ / 0-)

    When I read about Charter Schools today, I can still barely get my mind around them.

    My son went to a charter school (BRAVO!) in Bloomington, Minnesota in the 1990s when he was in Middle School.  Sending our son there was one of the best decisions we ever made.  The charter school was very small so it gave the students a lot of attention from his teachers.  My son needed that since he has ADD.  

    The school was small, not because it was exclusive, but because few families chose to have their children go there.  BRAVO! specialized in teaching students for whom English was their second language.  This charter school also had more of the students with learning and behavioral difficulties.  BRAVO! also had a more racially diverse population of students.  

    All of these things made the school better in my estimation.  For our family, education and learning are only partially what you get from books (and tests).  BRAVO! provided my son with a safe environment to be himself, an opportunity to interact with students from other cultures and a cadre of caring, nurturing and knowledgeable teachers who were willing to share their time and talents with him and his fellow students.

    I am so sad to know that many (most?) charter schools do not live up to the high standard that BRAVO! was able to accomplish for my son.

    God, I miss Paul Wellstone.

    by Naniboujou on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 08:26:46 AM PST

  •  I say to hell with charter schools... (7+ / 0-)

    fix the public schools.  Without high quality public education we're all sunk anyway.

    "The truth shall set you free - but first it'll piss you off." Gloria Steinem

    Iraq Moratorium

    by One Pissed Off Liberal on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 08:43:31 AM PST

    •  Amen, amen. (3+ / 0-)

      But "fixing" the public schools is a slippery animal.  What do you mean, "fix"?  And what education philosophy would be best employed to attain that goal?  Who will pay for it?

      I personally believe heavily in public education (strange, because I teach at a private school).  But we need concrete plans, based in reality and in educational psychology, which will help us to make public education the best education.

      "I'm not a liberal; I'm a leftist." "What's the difference?" "Liberals use lawsuits and love-ins. Leftists use barricades and bombs."

      by Schopenhauer Telescope on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 08:56:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh I agree. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        vcmvo2, trashablanca, RosyFinch

        But that is the challenge (IMO).  To provide a high quality education (or at least the opportunity for it) to all our kids.  I think the 'answers' may vary from school to school.  I think part of our problem is the one size fits all approach.  One thing I know that needs to happen is to free up teachers from burdensome paperwork and bureaucratic red tape.  I also think we need to make teaching one of the highest paid professions to attract and retain the best possible teachers.  Just a few thoughts FWIW.

        "The truth shall set you free - but first it'll piss you off." Gloria Steinem

        Iraq Moratorium

        by One Pissed Off Liberal on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 09:03:59 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Agree and disagree with the statement... (3+ / 0-)

          Sorry to pick on you OPOL, but I've seen this one too many times...

          I also think we need to make teaching one of the highest paid professions to attract and retain the best possible teachers.

          Yes, we do need to pay teachers more.  And, yes, we do need to retain them.  But I strongly disagree with the notion that we do not already have some of the best teachers in our system today.  I feel like it is a little insulting to suggest that the teachers who have taught for years for little pay are somehow the ones who stay in teaching because they wouldn't be able to do better in some other private, better-paying job.  

          I come from a family of educators.  The majority of teachers are educators because they feel education is important. They deserve more money, but let's give them the respect they deserve now.

          I know that isn't what you mean...but it really is the same type of framing used by Republicans when talking about the wonders of merit-based pay.

          God, I miss Paul Wellstone.

          by Naniboujou on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 09:29:00 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  wasn't the original idea (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica, trashablanca

      for charter schools to be special mission  public schools, with a mandate for parent-teacher management? in public school buildings, and under school district fiscal control?

      It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

      by sayitaintso on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 08:58:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Bravo OPOL. An old friend, Ben Barber, once wrote (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      trashablanca, RosyFinch, miss SPED

      something to the effect of, "If we can't do education as a public, what the heck can we do as a public?" See his book An Aristocracy of Everyone (although I think that quote is from another essay).

      To change ideas about what land is for is to change ideas about what anything is for. - Aldo Leopold

      by Mother Mags on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 09:24:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  But charter schools ARE public schools. (0+ / 0-)

      In fact, they are one of the ways to fix public schools.

      Students aren't all the same.  Some have special needs because of things like ADD or cognitive disabilities.
      Some love math, some don't.
      Etc, etc.

      Charter schools provide a way to address specialized needs, especially when the local administrators refuse to see them.

      My girls are in public schools that I am very pleased with, but only after starting out in Christian schools because of terrible public school experiences in the past (me -- in the very distant past, and my oldest daughter in the not so distant past)\

      The last thing we need is to remove choice from parents whose children are poorly served.

      Free speech? Yeah, I've heard of that. Have you?

      by dinotrac on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 04:29:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  If you can find a way to stop choice... (0+ / 0-)

        from turning into elitism I'm all for it.  The problem is a lot of these charter schools are turning parental choice into socioeconomic stratification.

        •  socioeconomic stratification is there already. (0+ / 0-)

          In case you haven't noticed, rich kids go to school with other rich kids and poor kids the same.

          If anything, charter schools (and magnet schools) can be a tug in the opposite direction - setting up special curricula that attract students instead of demographics.

          That said, the dangers you fear are real, absolutly.
          Unfortunately, the dangers of crappy public schools are equally real.

          Free speech? Yeah, I've heard of that. Have you?

          by dinotrac on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 01:32:43 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Stratification (0+ / 0-)

            is real and a serious issue in public education for sure.  It is however primarily a problem in the urban centers and less prominent elsewhere.  It's an issue that needs to be addressed absolutely, but it also highly personified by the Charter system as it stands.

            I think that it can work and does in some situations, but much like many areas of government and private spending, needs some oversight and regulation.  

  •  "Where will my students go?" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trashablanca

    You and the parents of the children will probably need to set up your own charter school.

    Getting to know the parents of children with like disabilities and interests would be a good idea.

  •  Washington, DC is developing charter schools (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trashablanca

    in a gung ho fashion too.

  •  Charter Schools are dandy if... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trashablanca

    ...you ignore their premises and results, that we can improve public schools by destroying them on the one hand and the aforesaid destruction put into motion on the other.  I worked for two semesters helping inner city kids prepare for SSAT entrance exams at a charter middle school where the classes dripped contradictions based on the failure of public schooling, to which, inevitably, this institution would contribute.

    I've got a long series about my experiences in education on the horizon, but it's like I'm in Colorado or something, because the line between earth and sky keeps getting further away.  One of my first diaries in this melange will concern the disparities in the application of 'SPED' labels, and the overuse of such divisions.

    I'd find your input on these issues interesting, no doubt.

    I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

    by SERMCAP on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 08:53:43 PM PST

  •  Too many generalities re:charters flung around (0+ / 0-)

    I'm sorry but I can't agree with most of the responses here.  My eldest's first experience with a public school system was with a charter school just outside of Atlanta.  We subsequently had to move out of the state and even today we desperately miss our charter school and wish we had access to the incredible faculty, staff, and administration there as well as the novel education that is not only multi-cultural and multi-lingual but that celebrates the global commmunity every minute of the day.  

    http://features.csmonitor.com/...

    No public school could begin to do what ICS does because there simply isn't the will, time or funding within the public school system.  My neighborhood school had the same demographics as ICS but terrible academics and discipline.  No public school in Atlanta can afford the time or money to do what ICS does.  Refugee children haunted by war and genocide fall through the cracks, as do their parents who can't speak English well enough to navigate the educational system.

    Sweeping condemnation of all charters because people have vague notions of doomsday scenarios that might (or might not) play out is no better than rabid insistence that every public school child should be handed a voucher to purchase parochial school tutition because of vague notions that some kind of liberal agenda is going to corrupt impressionable youth.

    We have to be willing to look at alternatives to traditional neighborhood schools or regional attendance centers.  Our current system isn't working.  Insisting on continuing with a broken system when we know the outcomes are unacceptable is madness.

    •  Stories of successful charters (0+ / 0-)

      do nothing to change the facts that the diarist raises.  

      Your kid had a good experience at a charter school: wonderful.  But what about all those kids not welcome there?  Many charters get results because they filter out the 'difficult' students that public schools always accept.  

      If we are willing to throw regular neighborhood schools under the bus, we are also accepting that many students (primarily students of color) are also disposable.  

      But the world needs ditch diggers, though, right?

    •  Spoken like someone... (0+ / 0-)

      who has never taught a day in their life, but I applaud your passion for education and finding the best solutions for your family.  

  •  Sure, some chaters get good results... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    miss SPED, whoknu

    But usually at a very high cost to the community and to the teaching profession.

    First, charter schools skim the "best" students (those with good grades/test scores, and with more involved parents)out of a neighborhood school, leaving it to serve a more difficult student body (SpEd, 2nd lang learners, attitude cases, lousy family support, etc).  Public schools have always proudly worked with these students.

    Charter schools often get good test results, but rarely support their community in the ways that a regular neighborhood school does (after-school programs, adult ed, etc)

    When charter schools encounter problems, they are free to pack up and leave, which they often do.  This leaves a void, especially when the charter has helped to ruin the neighborhood school.  In my neighborhood, the middle school is being closed outright so that a sexier charter school can take over the building.  But guess what: the charter will be a high school.  Now my neighborhood has 600 fewer slots for middle school kids.  They'll have to be bussed to other parts of town.  Community destruction (and deepening dependence on oil) is a real result.

    Many charter schools rely on a "burn-out" model for teachers which assumes that teachers are actually better if plugged into a very rigid, strict curriculum.  Recruit them young, work them even harder than union teachers, pay them less, and don't worry about it when they quit two years later.  Like the students they refuse to work with, teachers are fully expendable.  Teaching is even less prestigious than in public systems, if that's possible.

    None of this means that charters shouldn't be allowed.  There are some fine models out there that actually fill student and community needs. But the current trend of divesting of troubled or underperforming schools is deeply disturbing.  And I fear that the incoming administration is going to help accelerate that trend.

  •  As a special educator who works with the same (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gfornander

    population, I share many of the concerns noted here.  However, there aren’t now, nor do I believe, will there be in the foreseeable future, enough resources available to give everyone a "charter school" education as many have described here. The funding isn’t there and the will to provide the necessary funding isn’t there either. As you may know, the mandate presented by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has never been fully funded by the federal government. The law requires the Feds to provide 40% of the costs of educating students with special needs and they have never provided more than 12%. If we can not compel the federal government, or the state government for that matter, to provide the funding already called for by law, how can we possibly expect them to increase it? Let’s face it, public school districts can’t afford to pay teachers a decent wage with class sizes ranging from 30- 40 students. How could they possibly provide sufficient funding to decrease those class sizes to the level enjoyed by the teachers and students in those wonderful charter schools? In my opinion, charter schools are a great idea and I would love to see more flexibility in our curriculum so that we can meet the needs of all of our students. However, we need to offer the same quality of education to all of the students attending public schools not just those with motivated parents who can get them into a charter school. That means we need to fix them, not defund them.

    "For these are all our children. We will all profit by, or pay for, whatever they become".- James Baldwin

    by irkthesmirk on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 05:46:32 AM PST

    •  You obviously have been in the... (0+ / 0-)

      trenches and understand where I am coming from.  It's so incredibly sad that it all boils down to money, but that is our reality.  Decreased class size and additional resources would be great, but I'd welcome most the flexibility in curriculum you discussed.  Especially in the areas of alternate assessment students.

  •  The reason for the development of a charter (0+ / 0-)

    school in our neighborhood was more because it was the trend and the parents wanted their kids to get a better education than they thought they could get at the public school.  When the enrollment numbers went down at the public school because of the charter school they started losing things.  A vice principle, teachers, new equipment etc.  In the charter school because they didn't have enough money to have all the extras, the parents had to put in a certain number of hours each week plus provide the transportation every day.  All of the charter school parents were very involved and the kids got lots of attention.  For the first few years the school scored somewhat higher in standardized tests.  But now, they do not have the commitment they once had from the parents and their scores, though still high, have fallen and the public school scores have risen (which is another story)
    My question is, why did the scores go up at the charter school?  To me it was because of the high parent involvement and when that dropped the scores dropped.  

    So why couldn't they use the public school system that was already there to effect this change?  To me it was dumb.  

    I am an optimist, I am positive we will screw it up

    by whoknu on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 07:00:41 AM PST

  •  small class sizes work (0+ / 0-)

    I recently retired after finishing my teaching career in a highly successful public school charter middle school in Houston. Students who met the minimal criteria of a C average and no unsatisfactory conduct grades ( which is the norm for elementary students) were chosen by lottery from throughout the distrct.  I believe secret of our success is the school's small size of 360, and a low student to teacher ratio of 16:1, thanks to team teaching in all the core subjects. This allows teachers to give students more individual attention, and gives the school a family atmosphere, where all of the teachers and students know each other, unlike the other much larger regular middle schools in our district. In addition, our charter provides for elective classes in which students can explore careers such as engineering, and interests such as rock climbing, guitar, web site design, or pottery, giving everyone a reason to be excited about school. Our principal's philosophy is that if we do a good job teaching, the annual state test results will take care of themselves, and this has proved to be true. The only problem is that so few students can be admitted- every year hundreds more apply than there are spaces for. Smaller class sizes work, but they require more highly- qualified teachers.  The problem is that since salaries are the biggest expense in a school district's budget, it costs money to provide this quality education, which unless we are willing to pay for it, will continue to be unavailable to most students.

    •  You are fourtunate (0+ / 0-)

      to have been involved in this.  It sounds like a fantastic institution.  Again I say if this was the norm for public education and not selected by lottery there would be some serious possibility for proliferation.  I do applaud the very general admission terms however.

    •  Selection of students... (0+ / 0-)

      Lobolly, I agree with most of what you say about what leads to success, but I think you blew right past one of your "secrets" without acknowledgment.

      You say your charter school chose "[s]tudents who met the minimal criteria of a C average and no unsatisfactory conduct grades (which is the norm for elementary students)..." In other words, the school admitted students who met the norm and were above the norm, or to put it another way were "average" (although I dislike that term) and above average--in both academics and behavior. Well, yeah, the "annual state test results" should "take care of themselves" if you start with an "above average" group of students, but that doesn't say anything about what value this charter school has added. And that, as J Dewey indicated, is the problem with many charter schools--cherry picking the students, leaving behind those with below C averages and with conduct problems. Those kids are just someone else's problem.

      Small class sizes help with the other kids too, but charter schools draining money away makes it harder for the regular schools to achieve that.

      And here in Colorado, the effective net result of this cherry picking by charter schools is that the regular schools have fewer resources--less money per student reaching the classroom--and they have the more expensive students to educate.

      I strongly support choice and options within the public school system, but we should not allow charter schools to bleed money away from less gifted and/or less fortunate kids and send it toward those who have so far been more successful in school and/or those who are more fortunate.  

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