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.
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.
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.
Close friends and associates know me by name, Shaun Johnson. No, I’m not the gymnast. I tried as best as I could to go by a pseudonym because, well, I caught a lot of flak from my former supervisors in higher education because of my views. That is, skeptical and largely against Common Core, critical […]
Did I experience this or was this explained to me by another? You’ll have to guess. But here it goes. Scheduled for three hours. Arrival. Breakout session one consisted of a room with tables, each with a set of math textbooks. For 30 minutes, examine the textbooks. Breakout session two consisted of a computer lab. […]