August 8, 2013 by juicefong
In my blog post yesterday I announced two new series, including the “TFA Think” series in which I ask the TFA community what they really think about various topics. [What’s a matter with you? Take the survey already.] Round One asks about charters and standardized testing.
I will not yet reveal the numerical answers on the 1-5 scale on whether charters schools are having a positive impact on education. But, I will share a range of comments that people have given in the first 24 hours.
Some in the TFA community are clearly very critical of charter schools:
“The schools are taking money away from the public school system, pushing what I see as damaging discipline policies. Most importantly they often seem to push very misleading marketing language that makes it seem as though public schools are all terrible in comparison.”
“With rare exceptions, charter schools are either demonstrably worse than public schools or are only ‘better’ by virtue of selection biases. The proliferation of charters is a threat to democratically run public institutions, the teaching profession, and the opportunity to equitably educate children of all levels of need.”
“They take motivated families and students and kick out the rest, back to true public schools.”
“In principle a great idea. The funding though seems to come at the expense of public schools which can’t happen.”
“Charter schools use their freedom from union oversight to overwork and underpay their teachers. The parent company keeps too much of the money, and the teaching conditions are atrocious.”
“Charter schools advance the agenda of school privatization. When there are charter schools, non-charter public schools are not viewed as collaborators–they are viewed as competitors that will force underperforming public schools to ‘go out of business.’ Because of No Child Left Behind, charter schools have an incentive to avoid admitting students who may have a negative impact on their scores.”
“The higher test scores in the few charters that do record better scores seems to be a function of attrition, not better or more innovative teaching. I believe charters could be laboratories for new ideas but i do not think that is their current function.”
Others see it both ways or are still undecided:
“Charter schools on average are producing no different results than traditional schools, while also creating higher rates of student segregation. However, some charters are doing great things. For-profit CMO’s should not exist, period.”
“They seem to be allowed to propagate without any real evaluation of success. They say they don’t cherry-pick students (due to lottery system) but then expel students at the drop of a hat, forcing them back into the traditional district school. Very innovative culture that allows teachers to think outside the box and individualize learning.”
“I don’t have a strong opinion on charter schools. I’ve been impressed by the accomplishments of the ones I have learned about, but don’t know enough about what impact they may be having on the system as a whole.”
“Unlike many of our prominent alumni and allies (Barbic, Kingsland, Smarick, etc.), I don’t want to see the district model die; I’m worried about perverse incentives created by privatization. That said, it’s undeniable that high-performing charters create life-changing opportunities for low-income kids who would not otherwise access them.”
“Public education is in crisis and I think we need more ideas and potential solutions than less – charters are a part of that ecosystem of solutions. That said, I do not believe they are a silver bullet: similar to other school structures, there’s a bell curve around success, and we need waaaaaaaaaay more charters to be waaaaaaaaaaaay more successful than they are right now. I am leery of privatization via CMOs – but could be more amenable to that risk if we saw more charters distinctly successful and providing amazing, culturally responsive educations for ALL kids.”
“Charters have developed best practices but treat them like intellectual property when they charge districts to learn and use them.”
And a yet unrevealed portion of respondents think charters are having a positive impact:
“Instigators – super critical for jarring districts and systems to act differently. Great ones make a real and meaningful difference in the lives of students served. Awful ones should disappear…as should awful district-run schools.”
“Great places for innovation and to show what is possible in urban edu. However many don’t focus enough on equity of reach (i.e. all students in the communities that need it most regardless of prior academic, behavior, or economic status). I feel the CMO I currently work for does a lot to ensure equity of reach.”
“When charters serving low-income kids are performing well, I think they can raise the bar for what others see as possible for kids. A more traditional public school can do the same, though – ultimately, we need high-performing, different types of schools as proof points.”
“I also have been questioning the “no excuses” model that many high-performing charters follow. I think there is a way to instill discipline and values in students without creating a militaristic-like culture in a school. “
“I work at a charter and have for the past two years. In my experience I have found that students are held to higher expectations, culture and morale is high, and that students move around less.”
“They put decision in the hands of teachers. Strong teacher equals a strong school so with the right staff charter schools are awesome.”
“In my city, charters are more likely to be providing high quality seats for the students they serve (that is, seats likely to allow students to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally).”
“As a believer in school choice, I’d like to see more options available for students, especially charters with high expectations and intensive wraparound services.”
“I love them. They break the monopoly of government schools and allow for choice, individualization, greater autonomy, and innovation.”
“They have the necessary but not sufficient conditions for success: freedom, accountability, and stable governance. District schools usually don’t.”
Not gonna say it again: TAKE THE BLOODY SURVEY! Get in the mix! The survey is intended to hear voices from the TFA community so we can better understand this group’s beliefs, but all are welcome—I just ask you to identify yourself honestly. I’ll be keeping it open until next Wednesday, August 17th. And share it with some friends, please.
Justin Fong (@jgfong) runs the small but mighty internal communications team at Teach For America. He writes this blog on his own accord.