“I think that most in the room will agree with me….enough is enough! This is not some sort of game where it’s OK to judge “winning or losing” by which press release or pithy statement gets printed in the newspaper or gets highlighted on the nightly news, or gets the most play on social media. This is not about a campaign to discredit one person or another because they may disagree with you; it should be about, and only be about, what’s best for our school system and developing and maintaining great schools for our children.” Dr. Jesse Register Director of MNPS Schools.
Those are among the words that Dr. Register delivered to the Metro Council Education Committee on Thursday in front of city charter operators. (http://onpubliceducation.com/2014/07/10/dr-register-calls-for-civility-formal-cooperation-in-the-education-community/) To say I find them disappointing is an understatement, but Dr. Register is under fire for heading an organization that has done tremendous work yet still fails at basic communication, a failing that has been pointed out to them by more then one entity. Right now, he needs allies and reaching out to charter heads, the Chamber of Commerce and a Mayor who is heavily in the privateer camp is as good a way as any to get it. I get it and take no issue with that. Dr. Register is a good man who has done good work and the job of Superintendent is extremely political. What I do take exception to is the reducing of those who fight for their children’s education as merely participating in “gamesmanship”.
Privateers love to play the “we just have to communicate openly” card. Coupled with, the “we all want the same thing” card they buy themselves time to continue the attack and don’t fool yourself, it is an attack. A well connected and well funded attack. While must prefer to operate in the shadows, there are a few privateers like Chris Barbic and Andy Smarick that have openly admitted that they don’t believe the modern public school system is functional and that it needs to be destroyed and replaced with a new modern choice system. As an example of what the new system would look like they point to NOLA and Denver.
This week the folks of New Orleans got a real close look at what their brand new all Charter system had to offer.(http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/07/hundreds_of_new_orleans_parent_1.html) It wasn’t pretty. Over 500 parents showed up to exercise their right to choice and discovered that just like everything else that privateers pitch it was an illusion. These parents waited for hours in the hot Louisiana sun to try and participate, only to be told come back another day. Another day to arrange transportation and child care. Another day of lost work. That’s their choice.
Take a look at Denver. (http://kaplanforkids.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/blog-launch-redux/) Denver is a city well on the way to looking like NOLA. The numbers show, fifty seven charter schools (57), seventy five percent (75%) housed in taxpayer owned or leased facilities. Fifty two percent (52%) of taxpayer approved new schools money going to two Charter Management Organizations (CMOs). Forty percent (40%) of schools non-union. Should be a resounding success right? Not so fast. Proficiencies across the district in 2013 are: reading 54%writing 42%, math 46%. growth figures over the last 10 years are 1.25% in reading, 1.5% in Math, 1% in writing. I’ll let you read the rest of statistics on your own but as Charlie Sheen would say, its not “winning”.
Privateers would counter with the argument that I’m just picking and choosing my arguments. That there are bound to be hiccups. Look at all the failings of the traditional system. Why hold charters more accountable then the traditional system? Fair enough, but my answer is that traditional schools are democratically run public institutions. Charters are nothing but sanctioned laboratories and unfortunately these are what the lab rats look like.
I’ve got two children that will be entering the public school system. A young man and a young woman who I’ve been charged with the task of ensuring that they become productive citizens. See in the traditional system, I get a say in what constitutes their school as being a successful school. If I don’t believe that they are getting the proper curriculum or that their school is focusing on what I feel is important, I can bond with fellow parents and we can lobby the board to change policies. This year MNPS’s board has already responded on questions of testing, recess and zoning. They’ve been extremely receptive. If they are not, I can help vote them out.
In a Charter system I don’t have that ability to decide what makes a successful school. I’m told what’s important. I’m told what my child needs to become a successful adult. Funny thing is, if you look at curriculums and disciplinary practices, apparently its different based on the level of my income and the color of my children’s skin. The majority of “No Excuses” schools focus on impoverished and EL students. Public schools are a mirror of our society, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that this stratification will not have an effect on our society. We can always tell ourselves that at least those we relegate to second class status will have the ability to read and add well, so we can call it a win.
Please don’t get fooled either by charter operators claims to more successfully serve a high poverty or minority population then traditional schools. First this argument makes the assumption that all poverty and minority children face exactly the same circumstances. It’s ludicrous but that’s the beauty of data, you can throw someone in a sub group and they cease to become human. My other favorite defense is a recent quote by a leading charter operator, “I think one of the biggest worries people have is that charter schools are going to become segregation academies. We are uniquely helpful in helping to address that concern because we are over 90 percent African-American. So we are the opposite of what people fear in the law.” (http://hechingerreport.org/content/q-charter-school-founder-ravi-gupta-opposite-people-fear_16621/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+HechingerReport+%28Hechinger+Report%29) I presume he said it with a straight face.
I take my responsibility to my “lab rats” extremely serious and since I believe that we are all connected, I want all “lab rats” to have the same opportunities. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings or you feel my tone in not concilatory, but “tone” is the last of my concerns. My singular concern is that my children and their peers are truly prepared for entry into adulthood when its time to make that passage. Because while others are conducting their experiments, my children will be living with those results. That’s not a game to me. That’s not trying to participate in “political one man ship” and if that’s what you believe then you are sadly misinformed.
Recently two charter’s were closed in Nashville. That’s two populations that have had a tremendous amount of disruption entered into their life. Two populations that won’t get the time spent at those institutions back. The warning sign were there for both these schools, but due to the need to have a “civil conversation” their applications were allowed to proceed. There’s another charter that engages in questionable disciplinary tactics but because of the need to maintain the proper “tone” can’t be truly investigated. Perhaps we should worry more about the evidence and less the tone?
Another popular tactic for privateers is to reduce the discussion to singular communities’. As if the evidence from outside districts has no bearing on what will happen in our own community. I often hear, “yea but that’s New Orleans” or “That’s Philly. It’ll never happen here.” I can’t but think residents in those communities once heard the same commentary or do you believe they always envisioned their communities to end up where they have? That’s why a reset of the conversation is virtually impossible. The privateer movement never stops moving and churning. It never stops trying to open new markets.
Its a lot like the challenge of Iran and their continued attempt to secure nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders continue to call for more meetings, more diplomatic overtures, more civilized discourse. Meanwhile they keep on building and buying. Eventually they will reach a point where they possess nuclear weapons and then the conversation changes dramatically. Right now there are nuclear weapons aimed at our public school system being amassed. Eventually they will have the capacity to destroy the current system. That’s the reality. That’s why the continued need to push back. Sometimes very aggressively.
Again, my argument is not with Dr. Register nor is it even limited to Nashville. I thank him for the tremendous work that he’s done. I’m also not opposed to continued dialog. However if we are truly going to have a productive “reset” then all parties need to be honest. Until that happens, well, I may just hurt some feelings again. I may not take the proper “tone” but don’t you dare for one minute suspect that its because of political games, preservation of the status quo, or just ill spirited. That would be a serious mistake.