Recently Gary Rubinstein blogged about what he’s learned from charters. Here is what charters have taught me. (There is a shortened/edited reply on his blog.)
I’m a charter school teacher myself. I know they are not the answer, and they will not solve the issue of providing quality education for all students. I know there are some good ones and bad ones. I have preferred working at a charter over a traditional school, and would like to share with you what charters have taught me.
You might have learned this lesson (keep the lowest 15% from the top 50%) from charters – but it’s a lesson repeated in selective enrollment/magnet schools as well, right? I can think of many other ways our society keeps the “haves” from the “have nots.” I think you have a valid point that some charters perpetuate this but it did not start with charters.
I understand how teachers in traditional schools are frustrated that charters are touted as “high performing” when some play numbers game with attrition.
Charters do have more freedom. That’s a great thing and I wish more schools had the autonomy to do what they feel is best for their students without going through a large district bureaucratic snail-speed process. My students and I have gotten to do some amazing things I’d never be able to do at a traditional school, and I’m very grateful.
Another myth about charters I wish was addressed was the idea that they could do a better job teaching students with less money. I think that’s a major cause for attrition – students with more significant needs cost more. Most schools (charter or otherwise) struggle to teach diverse learners with varied needs. All schools need a equitable amount of resources to address all students.
In regards to “innovate” and “experiment,” those are scary terms when you think about educating children. Necessary, maybe, but scary. Most experiments fail many times before they are successful. I heard Geoffrey Canada once say that if a charter (experimental) school does not “succeed” it should be shut down. I thought to myself – What effect would all these failed experiments have on the communities these failed schools are in? I wish more people realized we need strong, stable neighborhood schools just as much as we need to “experiment” and figure out what works best. (This is a similar argument against TFA teachers – I belive we need ambitious dedicated new teachers just as badly as we need experienced, quality teachers.)
You touch on something I struggle with a lot. How do I best teach all students when a few are distracting and suck up a large amount of my energy? That’s not a charter issue, but a general teacher issue. In every school I’ve taught in (two, one traditional, one charter,) they have not been separated in my classroom.
I also disagree that classroom management issues are not why teachers quit ‘bad’ schools to go to ‘good’ ones, in my experience it’s been administrative issues. Again, not a charter issue.
I think there are a lot more lessons we could learn from charters, and lessons charters could learn from traditional schools, if we would collaborate more. Many people are so upset about the existence of the other side, and all that they are doing wrong, that they blame them (and sometimes the teachers who work in them), for the lack of resources in districts/current educational climate. The others are seen as the enemy. Most teachers on both sides are just trying to provide the best education we can for those students who are in front of us.
In my view, (which evolves and changes as I learn and grow), charters should be viewed as niche schools. A niche is not for everyone. They do increase school choice for many families who didn’t have it before. (I’m quick to realize that school choice and a quality education are not always the same thing.)
I guess my hope is that we can start working together. Charters and TFA were created with the thinking that they would figure it out from the outside and then that would fix the inside. Well, both sides are still struggling, so why don’t we band forces again, and be a bit more humble and collaborative?