the charter debates

I really appreciate Bruce Baker’s (School Finance 101) commitment to honoring teachers and respecting their work. Having said that, in his recent post on the contradictions of what, in Colbert-style, he calls “reformy” thinking, Baker seems to fall into the simplicity trap I have been lamenting today.

I agree with a lot of what he writes in this piece, I just don’t understand the broad negativity about charter schools…I have worked first hand in a number of such schools that were failures and I have seen a general lack of design and forward-thinking in many I have been in. However, the giant public schools down the street were invariably, dramatically worse. They were usually more dangerous, more chaotic, and (even) less purposeful.  Parents I know who send their children to charter schools are often more worried about basic safety and kindness than than they are about curriculum or pedagogy.

The massive, bureaucratic, centralized  district administrations have not succeed, in more than a hundred years, in dramatically changing the basic practices of schooling. These practices are often not well matched to the students schools serve or to their communities. They similarly often do not meet the needs of a dynamic, changing economic reality that increasingly demands creativity and “design thinking” (thank you Daniel Pink).

By changing the systems of governance so that the schools themselves can sense and adapt to change we might have a chance of transforming schools into learning organizations (organisms) that change and grow based on their own learning. Admittedly, this change requires trusting schools and teachers to change and adapt (and it means supervising them to make sure they are not corrupt). However, I trust the teachers and the schools right now more than I trust the districts and superintendents.

In the charter school movement, we should be able to point to extremes of all kinds–traditional schools, test oriented schools, progressive schools, internet schools, democratic and community schools (like the REAL School)–and we should be able to acknowledge that we need many different kinds of schools for different purposes in different contexts.

Big districts have difficulty supporting this diversity of need, perhaps this continues to be naive, but I believe they could transform their support from hierarchy to heterarchy if we started to trust differently.

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One comment

  1. It’s actually not a broad negativity toward charters or at least not intended to be. It is indeed a broad negativity toward those who would sell charters as a replacement for urban districts given what we have generally found. I also started as a charter advocate, especially regarding teacher recruitment/retention and creative alternatives. But the “movement” has been turned into a “movement” with strong political messaging, in ways that I believe have corrupted much of the original intent. That aside, my point in the current post is merely to challenge the reformy ideology that charters should be used not for creative experimentation, but as a replacement system. In those cases where we have tried the replacement system approach, like Kansas City, the results are questionable at best.

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