Saturday, July 22, 2017

Public Schools In Cooperation With Community Leaders And Parents Are The Answer, NOT Charter Schools by Shannon Ergun

I have opposed charter schools for many years now. It started with it just feeling wrong to create a separate system touting to incubate innovation to better meet the needs of students when that was possible in the public school system. Tacoma has done a great job of finding ways to innovate. They still need to develop better systems to make the innovations broadly and easily accessible to all our students. However, I feel like we have people in leadership (through the union, the board, and administration) working to address this problem.

As I have read more and more on charter schools and their impact on local communities and on students, I have come to realize that my initial feeling is proving true over and over again. While initially the NAACP supported the idea of charter schools as incubators of innovation, they have since come out strongly against charter schools. You can read their resolution for a moratorium on charter schools and the reasons for it here:

The National Education Association came out against charter schools years ago as educators watched the impact they had on public schools. At the national representative assembly this month, the 9,000 delegates approved a policy statement regarding charter schools outlining under what circumstances they should be supported and when they should not be. Because states define charter schools in different ways, it was important to create a national policy that outlined what constitutes a charter school that when funded through taxpayer funds is then overseen by elected public leaders. To read more on this statement, check here:

Finally, UCLA has done extensive research on the charter school movement over the last 14 years and has found that they increase segregation and do not provide improved educational outcomes for students. You can find a summary of their report here:

What I see currently happening across the nation is that schools for generations have been starved of funding while being asked to do more and more. Educators and public schools are then blamed for failing based on a system of tests originally designed to prove that black and brown people are intellectually inferior (side note, do some research on the history of standardized testing and we can talk further on this issue). I will not even begin to argue about the fact that schools need to do better to serve our racially and culturally diverse students. We truly have a system that favors upper/middle income white students. We have millions of pages of research and data to prove it. Yet, we continue to argue for billions of dollars in standardized tests, scripted curricula, and online programs that have been shown again and again not to meet the needs of the vast majority of our children. What we truly need is to work on the social issues (homelessness, hunger, mental illness, addiction, joblessness, etc.) through our national, state, and local governments.

Then we need to fund our schools so that all our children have what the wealthy buy for their kids through private schools - smaller classes, plenty of arts and extracurricular opportunities, hands-on and experiential learning through field trips and outreach programs, and opportunities for students to explore their interests in various subject areas so that they can make an informed decision about post-secondary pathways. Any student who wants to attend college should. All students should be guided to make post-secondary choices based on their passions and talents and interests and goals NOT on their family income, race, gender, or standardized tests determined aptitude. All students should be encouraged to take advanced courses especially in their particular area(s) of interest.

While we focus on guiding students to the post-secondary success that meets their interests and needs, we need to stop focusing so heavily on numerical data and begin a shift to exploring in what ways our schools are meeting the needs of diverse cultures and races to expand those practices more broadly across schools. We must also examine how we are obstructing student success and shift those practices to culturally responsive ones. Our educators need professional development through their university education programs and continuing through their career on culturally responsive methodology. We need support in implementing restorative justice practices. Districts in cooperation with teachers' unions must develop cadres for educators of color to serve as leaders in creating diversity teams and early career educator mentorship opportunities. We need to repair our public schools from within.

I truly feel that those who promote local charter schools, not the corporate for-profit ones but those developed by local leaders and parents frustrated by the system that ignores their needs, are trying to find a solution to a huge problem. My hope is that we can develop ways for their concerns, feedback, and ideas to be used in the public schools to improve outcomes for more than just the few who could be served in a separate system. When asked once by a colleague if I didn't just want to create a school where "these kids" could do well, I responded, "Yes, but rather than create a new and separate school, I want to work to repair and improve the ones we have so that all students benefit not just a select few."

I hope that after looking more deeply at this issue and reading some of the links above that you too will shift to wanting to find ways to incorporate the amazing ideas that our community members have into our current schools rather than continue to suggest that we need to have a separate system. We know from decades of evidence that separate is never equal.

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