I posted this yesterday, roughly based on my experience with “specialists” in schools. The results have been mixed in terms of opposition to the concept and the contrary, that there is some room for analysis of the work that specialists do. Let me add some details to my perspective here. And if the reader finds complete and total inaccuracy with my claims, then by all means share with me your positive experiences in the comments.

I returned to the classroom a few years ago after eight years in higher education. While in academe, I became a forceful advocate for the preservation of a free and open public system of education. During my first four years as a graduate student, I had no idea what “education reform” actually meant. Then, as an assistant professor, I started to get the idea as I observed its impacts on student teachers. I became an active participant in the conversation surrounding education reform.

Now I’m putting my formerly activist money (or lack thereof) where my mouth is, doing the most difficult work that I’ve ever done. Teaching in a low-income, high-needs, inner-city school, one that co-locates with a charter, has changed me considerably. Even though I oppose nearly every tenet of education reform, I am no longer an unabashed booster for the public system. It deserves some measure of critique. And those like myself who’ve been so focused on opposition and refusal over the years must now shift some of our energies on creating an alternative vision.

I’ve been frustrated with many aspects of the system in recent years, one of which being the exceptional levels of scrutiny heaped upon classroom teachers, who are expected to work miracles in a broken system, and in very challenged communities. As a teacher, I’m somehow expected to teach at unreasonably high levels in schools with skeleton crews, skeleton budgets. My success is then measured by test scores, or other objective data points, whose most valid assessment is of the community resources available to students, and not my performance as an educator.

As I work very hard to perform my job to the best of my ability each and every day, with great impact on my personal life and finances (since I feel the need to subsidize our school’s sh*tty budget), I do see some truth to the scrutiny that we receive. There is some room and need for accountability. I don’t know what form it will take, but there actually needs to be something.

There needs to be accountability for educators who refuse to work with children and instead hunker down in offices, spending hours and hours and hours tacking sticky notes to a data wall. We need accountability for those who refuse to show up for their posted duty schedules so teachers can “enjoy” their measly 30 minutes for lunch. We need it for the special educators who refer to some students as “retarded.” And as I’ve stated before, we need it for the teachers who refer to their students as future “murderers” and “bankrobbers.” I need some kind of guarantee that if I’m going to have to put up with the observations and the scoring and the value-added that we are ALL going to be held accountable to those same measures.

If I only sit here and share the feel good stories, and ignore the very real work that we need to do to improve our profession, then what the hell good is all this resistance? I get it. Hold off on critique until the “battle” is over. Then, we can do the work of improving ourselves once we’ve overcome our opponents. There is some very real and very important work that we as educators need to do. There are educators out there, I’ve met them, who absolutely give reasons for TFA and other reformist organizations to exist. I’m not saying they’re the majority or even a significant slice of the minority. But we have to take charge of the circumstances that we can control, and maybe it’s calling out some of our colleagues for not fulfilling their end of the bargain.

Few things in any given teacher’s career will make the ceding of ground more obvious than new administration. We’ve had three principals in as many years. Our school has struggled mightily all three of those years. Each new regime promises to turn the screws on us teachers by adding new meetings or initiatives, most of which are new ways of doing the same things as before.

As the old ways are lumped together with the new, it’s not obvious at first how much we’ve given, and how much has been taken. Quick example. A huge bone of contention in our District last year was the topic of an extended school day. Leadership wanted it; teachers didn’t. Or, at least, they didn’t want to simply add more time to the school day without some guarantee that the time, our time, would be well spent. There were too many questions about the extended day that teachers, with union support, easily voted it down on a school-by-school basis.

Our school voted the extended day down because we couldn’t really get our questions answered. We were simply adding an hour to the school day and that was that. There was nothing to say about the quality of the time we were adding.

With new administration, suddenly we are an extended day school. Funny how that happens.

I get it. Teachers are very reluctant to say no, especially with how easily it is to suggest we don’t give a sh*t about our students if we don’t do a million extra things every day. So we keep giving, and giving, until pretty soon, all those inches added up to a mile. And we wonder why teachers, especially those in struggling schools, are walking zombies.

No matter how small, watch how many inches you give. That ground is very hard to get back.


This, according to the Washington Post. 

I say no, absolutely no.

In many cases, charter schools are operated by for-profit entities with boards and shareholders. By law, the rights of shareholders are protected. But in the process of ensuring adequate profits on investments, they are forgetting that they are providing education and not the manufacture of widgets. Additional money will not be reinvested in the school and community. It will become profit. Therefore, it is inevitable that some limited public money will be diverted to for-profit corporations. How much depends on how much below cost the schools can operate.

Most of the charters in DC are in low-income and highly segregated areas of the city. Funds to those communities are already limited. It is therefore unreasonable for any money, which could otherwise go to the community, to be siphoned off to fatten investors.

DC Public Schools is mulling the idea of turning over all “failing” schools to charters. One thing that is often cited is the autonomy possible in charters in the face of an unyielding bureaucracy. The District is what is unyielding, they are the bureaucracy. They set the rules, and yet they abhor themselves so much that they’d rather turn their primary means of purpose in this world, their schools, to outside entities.


Schools are a hot investment. Schools can be operated at well below cost in a number of ways to ensure adequate return on investment. One, cheaper labor can be hired in the form of interns or interim teachers from alternative certification programs, like TFA. Since those teachers are not beholden to union contracts, they don’t require due process or other expensive protections. A scripted curriculum and strict codes of conduct can ensure that these teachers are easily replaceable one year after another. That means diminished costs related to professional development and other long-term investments in its workforce. Professional development can be turned over to the alternative certification programs that quickly and efficiently train employees for these very specific charter workplaces.

Two, many charters rely on philanthropic gifts to augment budgets. That means public funding becomes less necessary, thus any cost savings can be diverted to profit. These large gifts, in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, are exactly that: gifts that don’t need to be repaid. They can replace public, per-pupil funding entirely, so that public money is siphoned to shareholders. The gift-givers in turn exert some ideological control over the schools and likely receive their own tax benefits related to philanthropic giving. Successful school models can be brought to larger scales, thereby increasing the return on investment.

The autonomy offered to charters is very important to this model of investment so that it works properly. But if this autonomy is touted as a key to charter success, why can’t it be offered to public schools to see if they can enjoy some of that success as well? This kind of autonomy can take numerous forms, from something as small as its own wireless network with greater access to curricular resources all the way up to near complete control over hiring decisions, curriculum, and instructional methods. Charter schools can choose their own food vendors, hold parents accountable in interesting ways, and evaluate their own teachers.

All of these things could benefit a pre-existing public school without engaging in the complicated machinations required to turn public schools into charters. Charterization, coming from the District itself, means they’ve admitted complete and total failure to its most vulnerable populations. If a District is so willing to admit complete and total failure, how can we trust any of their decisions from this point forward? It seems that even its hasty desire for total charterization of the segregated Southeast should be viewed with extreme skepticism.

Perhaps they should also be replaced and others with better ideas should be given an opportunity.

Just a thought.

Almost like in a teaching hospital, people from District offices around the country do rounds in classrooms and schools to tick boxes on a checklist. Do we have the right things hanging on our walls?

Whenever we have our walk throughs, and being in a “failing” school they are frequent, the onus is always on the teacher. What are YOU doing to improve achievement? But the audit never goes the other way. Do I ever get a chance to check off a list of things I need, in return asking what YOU ALL are doing? What are you doing to get that paycheck?

If it went the other way, I think more district administrators would be out of their jobs.