What TFA people are saying about charter schools so far


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.

One thought on “What TFA people are saying about charter schools so far

  1. Alec says:

    Fabulous sir. I would like to give your readers a historical perspective. Lots of folks think Charters and choice are a new phenomena. In Minnesota we have a terrible opportunity gap. What people do not realize is we had universal traditional school and charter school choice for more than twenty years. In Saint Paul, where I worked, we bussed 89% of our 45k students to schools of their “choice”. Again, we had the first Charters in the nation. So this idea of choice was a noble experiment done for noble reasons. It is no longer an experiment. We have 20 years of evidence of what choice does to underprivileged students.

    After the twenty years socio-economic and racial isolation got way worse. For example, my school of 2000 is 95% poor and minority in a city that is only about 50% poor and minority. Te opportunity gap did not improve. You see, from a privileged perspective, choice sounds fabulous. Who wouldn’t want more options. I sure take advantage of it for my own kids.

    However, when you st out of the privileged perspective, you realize that navigating a huge landscape of literally hundreds of schools is overwhelming. Our poor, disenfranchised, and second language families oft have neither the time, resources, or motivate to conduct comprehensive searches of schools. Sometimes they are understandlably ambivalent after being turned off during their own education. Sometimes they don’t speak the language. Sometimes they are just too busy figuring out how to survive.

    Regardless, most of the folks leveraging the choice system are the same exact folks who knew how to leverage the old system. The difference is, it is even more difficult for those not from the dominate culture to navigate the choice system. The choice syst has made the problem worse because it we designed by people from privilege. Well intentioned, but it made the situation worse.

    The solution, as hard as it may be, has to be a quality neighborhood school for every child. In their own neighborhood. Any other scheme will displace and disenfranchise the least among us. As yourself, why is it, that whenever we “help” poor students it is by making them move, or change schools, or build all new relationships. It is because it lets the dominant culture say they are doing something, but in a nice convenient way for them.

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