NPE Statement on Charter Schools

Network for Public Education

 Statement on Charter Schools

The Network for Public Education believes that public education is the pillar of our democracy. We believe in the common school envisioned by Horace Mann. A common school is a public institution, which nurtures and teaches all who live within its boundaries, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, sexual preference or learning ability. All may enroll–regardless of when they seek to enter the school or where they were educated before.

We believe that taxpayers bear the responsibility for funding those schools and that funding should be ample and equitable to address the needs of the served community. We also believe that taxpayers have the right to examine how schools use tax dollars to educate children.

Most importantly, we believe that such schools should be accountable to the community they serve, and that community residents have the right and responsibility to elect those who govern the school. Citizens also have the right to insist that schooling be done in a manner that best serves the needs of all children.

By definition, a charter school is not a public school Charter schools are formed when a private organization contracts with a government authorizer to open and run a school. Charters are managed by private boards, often with no connection to the community they serve. The boards of many leading charter chains are populated by billionaires who often live far away from the schools they govern.

Through lotteries, recruitment and restrictive entrance policies, charters do not serve all children. The public cannot review income and expenditures in detail. Many are for profit entities or non-profits that farm out management to for-profit corporations that operate behind a wall of secrecy. This results in scandal, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer funds. The news is replete with stories of self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and theft occurring in charter schools [1].

We have learned during the 25 years in which charters have been in existence that the overall academic performance of students in charter schools is no better, and often worse, than the performance of students in public schools. And yet charter schools are seen as the remedy when public schools are closed based on unfair letter-based grading schemes.

By means of school closures and failed takeover practices like the Achievement School District, disadvantaged communities lose their public schools to charter schools. Not only do such communities lose the school, but they also lose their voice in school governance.

There is little that is innovative or new that charter schools offer. Because of their “freedom” from regulations, allegedly to promote innovation, scandals involving the finances and governance of charter schools occur on a weekly basis. Charter schools can and have closed at will, leaving families stranded. Profiteers with no educational expertise have seized the opportunity to open charter schools and use those schools for self-enrichment. States with weak charter laws encourage nepotism, profiteering by politicians, and worse.

For all of the reasons above and more, the Network for Public Education regard charter schools as a failed experiment that our organization cannot support. If the strength of charter schools is the freedom to innovate, then that same freedom can be offered to public schools by the district of the state.

At the same time, we recognize that many families have come to depend on charter schools and that many charter school teachers are dedicated professionals who serve their students well. It is also true that some charter schools are successful. We do not, therefore, call for the immediate closure of all charter schools, but rather we advocate for their eventual absorption into the public school system. We look forward to the day when charter schools are governed not by private boards, but by those elected by the community, at the district, city or county level.

Until that time, we support all legislation and regulation that will make charters better learning environments for students and more accountable to the taxpayers who fund them. Such legislation would include the following:

·     An immediate moratorium on the creation of new charter schools, including no replication or expansion of existing charter schools

·     The transformation of for-profit charters to non-profit charters

·     The transformation of for-profit management organizations to non-profit management organizations

·     All due process rights for charter students that are afforded public school students, in all matters of discipline

·     Required certification of all school teaching and administrative staff

·     Complete transparency in all expenditures and income

·     Requirements that student bodies reflect the demographics of the served community

·     Open meetings of the board of directors, posted at least 2 weeks prior on the charter’s website

·     Annual audits available to the public

·     Requirements to following bidding laws and regulations

·     Requirements that all properties owned by the charter school become the property of the local public school if the charter closes

·     Requirements that all charter facilities meet building codes

·     Requirements that charters offer free or reduced priced lunch programs for students

·     Full compensation from the state for all expenditures incurred when a student leaves the public school to attend a charter

·     Authorization, oversight and renewal of charters transferred to the local district in which they are located

·     A rejection of all ALEC legislation regarding charter schools that advocates for less transparency, less accountability, and the removal of requirements for teacher certification.

Until charter schools become true public schools, the Network for Public Education will continue to consider them to be private schools that take public funding.

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The Network for Public Education is a 501 (c)(3) organization. You can make a tax deductible donation here.

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Our Peculiar System

Our peculiar election system made from compromises over time and a distrust of direct democracy has led us to where our President-elect was elected despite losing the popular vote.

And the compromises that led us to the Representative and Senatorial bodies have given us a Senate led by Republicans despite the fact that they represent about 44% of the population versus the Democrats representing 55%. (This is assuming Republicans take the Louisiana seat that will be decided in December).

So any talk of a mandate by the Republicans is pure hypocrisy.

Mourn for the dead, fight like hell for the living

This is from Monty Neill, Executive Director of FairTest:

Mourn for the dead, fight like hell for the living (Mother Jones). Or is it, those whom tee gods would destroy, they first make mad. The latter might be true, but the first is all we can do.

On education in MA, our strategic path forward may not be so complex (not easy, just not so complex).

Nationally on the much wider range of ‘issues’ there are deep complexities that have I think led to the Democrat’s loss – specifically, the neoliberalism that grabbed the party perhaps as far back as Carter and certainly under Bill Clinton, then continued under Obama (who also aimed to promote more social democratic approaches such as on health care, but the two cannot really be reconciled).

Hillary was, I think, trying to get out from under it, at least partially (as with Obama), but could not (thus, as pundit land put it, was not seen as a change person). Compound that anger against neoliberalism with white racism and plus misogyny, it is a potent brew. Neoliberalism has in many ways has most hurt people of color, but they face R’s open racism; related was media’s apparent unwillingness to talk about racism – only ‘southern strategy; and media kept failing to qualify its term ‘working class’ with the modifier ‘white’ since by any meaningful definition of working class, it is composed disproportionately of blacks and Latinos.) It mixes also potently with cultural conservatism that for example led white evangelicals to massively support Trump.
Sanders offered something of a route forward for the Dems, but it is far from clear the Dems will break with neoliberalism – now a huge part of their base are folks who have relatively benefited from neoliberalism (those with college degrees, as media discussed incessantly last night, tho they used terms like ‘technology’ so they could avoid ‘neoliberalism’). That sector and it would seem large sectors of the ruling class/elite that brought us neoliberalism backed Hillary if only out of fear of the unknown that is Trump (see stock market sharp declines last night, internationally). Again, the Republicans were able to mix their strange alliances better than were the Dems.

Very weird political knots to even untangle clearly, never mind figure out how to address strategically.

BTW, I don’t mean to suggest our strategic thinking should be limited to terrain of major political parties.

Back to education:
Ed week just had a piece wondering what Trump will do – a useful reminder of the little he has said. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2016/11/donald_trump_wins_presidency_uncertainty_education_issues.html?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=campaignk-12

Monty Neill, Ed.D.; Executive Director, FairTest; P.O. Box 300204, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-477-9792; http://www.fairtest.org; Donate to FairTest: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/fairtest

The War on Blacks?

The United States has by an astronomical amount the largest proportion of its population in prison compared to other countries. Our competition, (though we still have them beat) are places like Russia and Uganda, and maybe China, though reliable statistics for China are hard to come by.

Prison population

And while Blacks make up around 10% of the population of the country as a whole, they make up about 40% (FBP) of the prison population on the federal level and similar disparities are found at the state level.

Fifty percent of the prison population at both federal and state levels are for drug related offenses (Drugwarfacts.org). The war on drug that produced these figures has had no measurable effect on reducing drug use. It has been a boon to the prison industrial complex, and possibly the effect of increasing the power of drug cartels.

This is not to mention the well documented disproportionate violence against Black by police, too often resulting in death as well.

A further repercussion is that for the most part prisoners cannot vote, and in some cases that lack of ability to vote carries past being released, sometimes for life.

Now add to that the recent voter suppression laws, and we see a pattern of the disenfranchisement of the Blacks and the Black vote.

If you look at this by numbers, it would be easy to interpret this as a police state for Blacks.

(I was recently hearing that similar statistics—if not even worse, are true for the Native American population).

Multi-graded Classroom

We think of the age-graded classroom as so normal, as if it is just the natural order of things—and forget that it is a relatively recent modern invention.

zits

The first public schools were mostly small one room buildings with kids of all ages and a teacher. This was mostly done not out of any belief in multi-aged classroom, but since most people lived in rural areas, schools were not likely to have more than a classroom full of kids from the town and surrounding farms, and their attendance often sporadic.

The age-graded classroom was a product of two simultaneous and connected changes in society: urbanization and industrialization. In a primarily agricultural society, there were too few students in close enough proximity to fill up more than a class or two, especially given that most did not spend much time in school. Most of what anyone needed to know could be, and really had to be, learned at home on the farm. Basic reading, writing, and arithmetic were all that was needed from school for most people, and not to a very sophisticated level.

Urbanization meant more of the population was living in larger cities, which meant schools could have larger enrollments. With more of the population living in large cities, now in many places there were enough children of one age to make a entire class or even more than one. It also meant more people’s jobs were working for someone else, and so schooling seemed more important as well. Further, since parents were working outside the home, they needed a place to send their kids.

Industrialization brought with it as well the idea of assembly line efficiency. It only made sense to apply the modern ideas of such efficiency to the classroom, especially given having so many children in one place. Curriculum was designed along these lines, where all teachers could give the same lessons to all the kids of a certain age in the proper order.

Soon this way of doing things, where students were grouped by age and taught subjects and content in a linear order, became what seemed the natural order of things. Multi-graded classrooms were now just an inconvenience of the few places left rural enough not to be able to have age-graded classrooms, or in larger schools to avoid hiring extra teachers when the numbers did not work out to have a complete class at every grade, putting the extra kids form two grades together.

When most teachers are now assigned such a combination grade class they dread it. After all, it is gong to mean two different curricula they have to teach; kids of different ages to manage; more different groups. How to instruct one group while keeping the other busy doing something meaningful? Given the paradigm of teaching as the delivery of curriculum, these fears are probably realistic ones.

However, if one has a different paradigm, multi-graded teaching can be wonderful. In my third year of teaching, when I had a second grade, I asked to keep my students the following year. I found it a huge advantage to start the year knowing my students. I felt I developed a much deeper relationship with these students. I could start the year right off and take them on from where they were. Classroom management was easier since we had already established the classroom norms. Having students for two years was a blessing.

The following year I switched school districts and was assigned a first grade. But as the year progressed, I started scouting among the other faculty for a teacher that might want to join me for teaming for multi-graded classrooms. My idea was to do a first/second, and keep half of my students, but the teacher I found that was willing to try this with me did not want to do first, so we ended up agreeing to do second/third. After doing that for several years, I also had years where I did 4/5, 4/5/6 and 3/4/5.

The big difference in the paradigm that makes one seem advantageous over the other is a belief in how people learn. Much of schooling is based, mostly implicitly, on a belief in learning as a linear process, generally passed from teacher (or any form of directed instruction which can be in the from text books, workbooks, or even computer programs as well as a teacher) to pupils. In this paradigm, teaching a group where everyone is around the same level is most efficient for delivering the correct instruction.

Another paradigm of learning—one which follows most of our out of school learning, is that we learn in communities of diversity, where different people have different levels of knowledge and ability, and just different ways of approaching and looking at things. We learn in this context by doing purposeful activities along side others—learning with and from them. If this is your paradigm for how learning takes place, then you will see multi-graded classrooms as an advantage rather than hardship.

As in moving up a grade with my students, my multi-grade classroom meant that I already knew half of my students. I could see how they were maturing, what they needed. In many ways knowing I had two years with them meant I had more patience for the natural differences in how children develop at different rates.

Learning is also to a large degree built on trust. Real trust is something that comes over time and with two years that trust is also deeper. This goes for the teacher’s relationship to the family families as well as the students themselves. In having my students for two or three years, I found the trust level increased exponentially.

Then there is socialization to how the classroom runs. With half the children knowing the routines, the other half easily learn them as well, as they can follow the lead of the students who were with me the previous year.

In terms of curriculum, for much of it, I use a thematic approach. A thematic approach allows students of a variety of interests, abilities and styles to approach the theme in their own way at their own level. When students are reading real books and literature rather than text books, they naturally find the books that interest them—and a book that is too easy or too hard is not interesting. The same goes for writing, using a writer’s workshop model. For math, students would have self-paced workbooks for arithmetic, and I would do on-the-spot grouping for particular skills, as well as thematic projects for the whole class to work together on. Themes could be anything from building a town, creating houses, studying bugs, investigating the environment, learning about the solar system, studying the peopling of the America’s to name just a few that I have done. The possibilities are practically endless.

In the multi-graded classroom, less-able students have more experienced and knowledgeable students to model and guide them, who are just enough above to act as effective models. The more-able students, in helping guide the less experienced, actually learn even more in the process of offering such help and guidance. It creates a form of having to meta-cognize—think about their own knowledge—in helping others. Teaching can actually be the most powerful form of learning.

In summary, multi-graded classrooms offer a variety of advantages: Getting to know students and families better; allowing more time to work with students; building greater levels of trust; easier classroom management; creating a more natural environment where those of different abilities learn from and with each other; and built in peer tutoring.

For these various reasons multi-graded classrooms can offer a more powerful environment for learning than a standard age graded classroom.

Intelligence

What is intelligence? Can we measure it? Do some have more of it than others?

I have just started to reread Stephen Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” If you have not read it—it is a must read, especially for anyone who calls themselves an educator.

intelligence test

He starts with two main points—or fallacies. One is the fallacy that intelligence is a thing at all. Rather, it is a construct, an idea. Intelligence is actually no more or less than we define it as.  The other fallacy he points out is ranking—as though there is some linear range, like height or weight on which to line up intelligence.

Our ideas of intelligence are socially and culturally created as well as historically situated, as Vyogtsky pointed out almost a century ago. Intelligence is only what we define it as. Our ideas of what it is are firmly entrenched in our belief systems, in our cultural paradigms. And also due to this any test of intelligence is to some degree a tautology. How do we prove someone is intelligent? Their score on the IQ test. How do we know that the IQ test is valid? We designed it so that those we “knew” were most intelligent got the highest scores and those we “knew” were less intelligence got the low scores. This is as true today of IQ tests as it was of the previous methods of measuring intelligence (craniology for instance). New versions of intelligence tests and even other forms of standardized testing are assessed on whether the same group that did well on the previous version do well on the new versions, and the same for those who did poorly—the curve needs to stay the same. If a different group does better on new test items (which are beta-tested first) those items are discarded as invalid (unless of course the test designers decide they want a different group to do better or worse).

The uni-dimensiality of intelligence has currently fallen into controversy, but it is as unprovable as intelligence itself—it is nether true nor untrue—since “intelligence” is what we define it as, we can choose to define it either way, and to categorize the different dimensions as we find useful.

The same is true of another assumption of intelligence—that it falls along a “normal curve.” This is a logical assumption based on other natural traits, such as height and weight. But we should not lose fact that it is another unprovable assumption, not a fact (and actually presupposes there is a thing called intelligence to measure and put on such a curve).

Because intelligence is a cultural construct, any test of it will be therefore biased toward those who share the knowledge, assumptions, world views and paradigms of the dominant culture. This again is unavoidable. A test has to have content, and any content exists in some context.

Because of these attributes of intelligence, I find the use of any measurement of intelligence highly suspect. When used to sort people in any official way, it is dangerous to a democratic society.