Thursday, July 7, 2011

my (evolving) opinion on charter schools part II

What I don't like:
1. Corporate funding - Well money sure is nice and public schools get corporate funding (thanks pepsi for the new pepsi-emblem clad gym!) but yes it is "creepy" when a corporation basically runs a school because they're not educators, they may have ulterior motives, they're tax exempt and yet receiving the public's money, and if the funding source is grand, they might be spending twice the amount per child as the regular public school. Wellthere's nothing wrong with spending more on education if they can afford it, but it could artificially inflate test scores, etc and make a charter look "better' than the public school when it is comparing apples to oranges.
2. Pick and choose students/add drop ability- While illegal at least in my state, charters have cherry-picked students like a private school can do. So, of course that school will have stellar test scores! Also charters can legally drop students very easily whereas a public school cannot. Johnny is failing, distracting all students, and talking about drugs all day? And wait he brought drugs to school? A public school would have to keep him because well, he lives where he lives and can't go to a different school, can't legally not attend, and the most they can do is send him to alternative education in the district. The charter can't kick him out either (unless expelled) but they can tell Johnny and his parents that there are other options for schools, that he's not succeeding here. But wait that sounds like a plus! Kind of, but then Johnny just drops out or goes and causes problems at the public school while the charter, having rid of Johnny and all his buddies, shines as a perfect model school, kind of artificially so.
3. Hiring/qualifications (a like and dislike you see...) Anyone can run the school. Crazy Crandall the homeless guy could conceivably (if he drafts a great petition) run a qualifications needed. Shouldn't a school's administration be qualified?
4. Hours - charters can work from 8-5, M-F if they want. They do not have to offer a prep period for teachers! I don't need to embellish here, the horrors of 8-5 with no prep period mean you then go home and prep there and, well, have no life. This seems to be an abuse when it goes to the extremes.
5. At will- What if your administrator just has a bad day and fires you for no reason? There's no due process, no explanation needed. This opens the door for a lot of things. I've seen a lot of mobility at some charters because of the abuse, meaning, teachers leave mid-year because they can, and because they want to. Other times, a teacher is fired for no reason (but there always is a reason....the principal's child didn't like the teacher because he gave him a B+, the board secretary's brother needs a job, the teacher had different political views...) You live in fear for your job. I've seen a teacher's job posted mid-year without their knowledge, no explanation needed or given. I've seen budget woes mean the entire staff is send unemployment letters and paperwork over the summer, just to "be safe".
6. Salary- Some folks say teachers are overpaid. While I think step and column salary is a bit odd- you can be a stellar teacher (state teacher of the year, won awards for your programs, been on t.v. for your ability to get kids to graduate...) but without a MA degree, having taught 15 years and make less than that teacher they've been trying to fire, with 20 years experience and an MA. But.... in charters they can rid of step and column completely and pay you "whatever". Without divulging too much, I have an MA and a bit under 10 yrs experience. I could go to the district next to my former charter and make nearly $53,000 (yay for California pay!). Instead I was making less than an emergency-credentialed, first year, no BA or MA, intern. And our new teacher, brand new to the profession, was making the same as myself and a teacher with an MA and 25 years experience.
7. Buildings- charters can operate "wherever" so a ramshackle strip mall building can do, as long as it meets fire code.
8. categorical funds- Without them, there is potential for abuse, i.e. a superintendent making $300,000 while the teachers make $30,000 and the roof is leaking onto the 20 year old textbooks. Also, without these funds, title-1 and all the title-funds, used to help students of poverty, English learners, etc are harder to get. Same for a school lunch fund.
7. leadership- As I think I said already, anyone can run the school, no experience or qualifications needed.
8. Curriculum. Yep I love and hate it. I had to develop my own curriculum 100% from scratch- I wasn't given a pacing guide or class set of books or anything and had to thus look at the standards, make my own pacing guide/scope and sequence, exams, lessons, etc. I think I made a darned good curriculum and have test scores to prove it but some guidance would have been really really great and would have saved me hours. I spent probably over 20 hours a week just making curriculum, then add in teaching, grading, assessing....
9. I'm only one person- I've seen it in all charters, where everyone is a jack of all trades. Things never get boring (a plus) but when you're the "English 9-12, CAHSEE prep, RTI, Art, Debate teacher and leadership, assessment, and administrator" or "algebra I, geometry, shop, PE, environmental studies, gardening, CAHSEE prep teacher and dean" it gets a wee bit overwhelming.

But...hopefully the "free market" notion of charters will work, meaning, if a charter pays their teachers 30% less than the neighboring district, works their staff 10 hrs a day, fires people if they wear the wrong shoes, cheats on exams, refuses to enroll special needs kids, etc etc etc....ti will either be shut down by the district, county, or state in a timely manner, or it will wither and die on the vine because people have the freedom to say "this school sucks, I'm leaving".

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