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?"