There are concerns that teachers are not from the communities in which they teach, particularly in urban areas, where differences in race and social class between teachers and students are magnified. Housing costs are often named as a culprit. One solution to this problem has been to build new “teacher villages.” These are typically lower cost residential apartment units built around or near charter schools, available to teachers working at these schools. One is now being considered for Washington, DC, to be built from funds provided specifically for charter school growth.

At first, I can appreciate this as an innovative strategy to revitalize neighborhood schools. But then you find that these villages are not typically available around traditional public schools, so this is clearly one way to attract more growth for the charter sector. Nevertheless, I can see teacher villages as a way to redevelop blighted communities, to provide convenience for teachers so they don’t have to commute long distances, and encourage educators to interact with the communities they serve. Given that teacher salaries are relatively low in most communities, lower cost housing diminishes one burden that is foisted on those who choose to teach.

When I think about this more deeply, I start to realize that teacher villages are a less than ideal solution. I have some questions:

  • Who is paying for this subsidized housing? Is this truly low-cost housing or is this actually a form of deferred compensation, which doesn’t really make this a deal for teachers after all?
  • Does lower cost apartment living actually serve as a form of bias against more veteran educators? I can imagine that these villages would be suitable for recent graduates in their early to mid-20s and not necessarily for “older” teachers, potentially with families.
  • Particularly in urban areas, why the association with charter schools? Additionally, if we were to map out potential teacher villages, are they most visible in low-income communities of color? With that, is this just another form of gentrification?
  • Will a teacher’s living conditions, or conduct in their private home, have any bearing on their employment?

The whole concept of teacher villages also reminds me of the early history of public schooling, when the profession of teaching didn’t really exist. Scores of young women, unable to find alternative work, were exploited to teach, so to speak, and bound by strict rules and codes of conduct. There is historical record of teacher villages in the mid to late 19th century, into the 20th century as well. Have you heard of the Boarding Round?

In the latter half of the 1800s, local communities designed schools to provide basic academic skills and moral education for children. Teacher compensation consisted primarily of room and board provided by the local community. The “Boarding Round” pay system was a strong incentive for teachers to maintain positive relations with community members and to maintain a high moral character. It also reflected the barter economy of the time.

This sounds almost exactly the same as the contemporary motive for teacher villages. To value teachers as professionals, there should be some respect for the individual to live where they want to live, to freely move about as they see fit. The motives of the community must not necessarily supersede the individual liberties of the teacher. Teachers, as they were in the past, are not owned by the company. They are not owned by the community. This may have been a convenient development for the early days of schooling, when teachers were young, educated women with very little in terms of actual rights or autonomy. They were so desperate to receive an education and leave their small towns to find work, despite very limited employment options.

Teachers still tend to be overwhelmingly white, middle-class women. Teaching is still written as a profession most suitable to women. It makes sense that traditional codes of sex and gender still permeate teaching and education. While the intentions might be noble, I think the whole concept of teacher villages still ascribes to a very traditional and restrictive view of teaching as a profession.

NPR put out a recent article on Rocketship charter schools.

I teach in Southeast DC and a Rocketship is set to open in the vicinity, like a bunch of other charter schools. I’ve had, maybe, two students so far tell me they’re going there.

It’s funny. One student in particular, who didn’t earn their choice time for the day, told me out of frustration, “I’m going to Rocketship next year!”

I hear this all of the time. When students are upset, don’t get their way, some tell me, “I want to go to another school!” I don’t seem to remember in my years of teaching or my years as a student that transitioning to another school was a way to express anger or frustration.

But then I see a Rocketship rep outside of our school during dismissal, with a clipboard. Then I hear of Rocketship reps poaching outside of Metro stations. They’re going hard.

Large increases in test scores don’t impress me much. Have we seen enough evidence yet that higher test scores in, say, elementary school actually transfer to skill and aptitudes that make one successful in life? Is there actually evidence that large increases in high stakes test scores in low income communities, from elementary school, actually transfer to adulthood?

As far as test scores go, I really don’t care. I care about education, but not test scores.

And here’s the thing. In the NPR article, Rocketship is accused of inflating test score gains, namely having students retake tests. Honestly, a test-based curriculum is in and of itself cheating, if you want to get technical about it.

But Rocketship shouldn’t be alone in these indictments. The entire test score game is rigged. I know for a fact that teachers in regular public schools lie about their data ALL OF THE TIME. Teachers lowball their data at the beginning of the year so they can show huge gains at the end. Granted, there’s some summer learning loss, but there is no way a kid could lose entire grade levels in about 8 weeks.

No way.

When we celebrate schools or programs that tout huge test score gains, rather than asking how it was done, maybe we should be asking, why should we care?

Chilling out on winter break. Can’t sleep.

Examining, for some strange reason, DC Public Charter School Board meeting minutes. I find this stuff so interesting.

I’m looking at contracts. I see one attributed to some strange 7L Group.

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They received $150K from a charter school in SE DC. That’s a lot of money. Well, 7L Group is listed as an Air Quality company. Makes sense, mold and such.

But then, the company has only three employees. How much mold can you remove with only three employees? What is more, the CEO is listed as Laruby May, who is a DC Ward 8 Council member. 

Being the CEO of a mold removal company is not listed in her bio.

I’m no journalist.

I want to say this, and I want to be clear: Eva Moskowitz and her ilk are garbage, they’re garbage human beings and their ideas are garbage.

I’d like to say something else, but I won’t.

You can follow the drama here. 

But seriously, with the “got to go” lists and other minutiae that came out recently, including the repeated failures of education reform policies as evidenced by the metrics that wonks tout for their success, the folks at these foundations and think tanks and charter networks are trashy, garbage human beings.

You’re garbage. Be gone. And that’s really all I have to say about that.

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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.

Why?

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.