Dear Mr. Villaraigosa,
I read the op-ed piece you wrote while sipping a coffee in Camarillo, CA afterhaving a conversation with a woman who is a retired nurse from Kaiser and has a child in a charter school in Camarillo/Thousand Oaks. Part of the conversation revolved around what she liked about the school and how it pertained to her child’s learning – the other part pertained to how she knew her child was learning. Interestingly, this educated, white woman in a rather nice part of Ventura County told me ‘test scores’ and so I asked her to explain how that related to access to college and her children graduating college.
The conversation quickly stopped. I felt as if the button on my blouse came undone and I was showing skin. The woman thought for a moment and then stated that her child was happy. I again asked how that related to college attendance and graduation. Again, blank stare. I began to explain what I was after – how did she determine the charter school did something for her child(ren) that no other public school with the exact same mandates could do?
Realistically speaking, charter schools are about choice. They have the same exact mandates as any other public school in America – give children a solid education and the ability to access higher education (college). Charter schools in and of themselves offer nothing new under the sun as far as curriculum and teaching practices. Charter schools use the same text books, kits, strategies as what works in any other functioning public school. They have the same 50 minute schedules and/or block scheduling.
Reform in education, with all due respect to your position, is a function of parents being called into accountability for what they do before a child enters school and while the child is in school. It is called parenting. It has been around for a long time and seems to work quite well in other countries where education is valued.
If the same time (longer school day, planning time for teachers), money (grant funding from private industry which exceeds public funding) and parental accountability were to happen in any public school, the same results would be had. Charter schools are not the iconic answer of the 21st Century or there would be more on their websites than test scores going up. Frankly, there is nothing which goes on at a charter school that could not go on in a regular public school if parents would be parents.
At the same time I read your piece, there was an equally compelling piece in the NY Times about charter schools and unionization. Teachers have finally realized the education crisis can not be solved on their backs, no matter how good it looks on paper. As a former charter school (N. Ca.) and public school teacher (I taught for LAUSD in Compton after returning from Peace Corps), I can affirm the only real difference is in the parenting. Both schools that I worked at had wonderful teachers and staff who were completely committed to education and student development. Both schools faced the same problems and some of the charter school problems were worse due to understaffing.
I encourage you to do an educated analysis charter schools. Teachers are paid worse for longer hours, (hence the desire for for unionization) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/education/27charter.html?_r=1&scp=5&sq=teachers%20union&st=cse. Charter schools are not better monitored, take for example KIPP Fresno (which I also analyzed in a previous blog). Test scores go up at a variety of schools around the country when the impetus is put to the parents and children are not allowed to be socially promoted- some charter schools hit the wall with test scores and the scores come down or plateau (ask for consecutive annual reports of any charter school organization and review the details – it is not on the websites as the truth would get in the way of marketing the charter school).
There is not a teacher I know that given the opportunity to educate a child and prepare them for college would fail to jump into action and do their best. There are many parents who have children and abdicate their responsibility to others. Do not jump on the bandwagon until you have done the due diligence. I do not see the top schools (Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, U of WA, etc.) putting out ‘unmarketed praise’ http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/11/090511fa_fact_mcgrayfor charter schools as they know, as those of us who have worked in charter schools know, it is not the complete package as advertised.
I know LAUSD stands to rake in some money for accommodating charter schools – don’t let that be your main justification. Read, research and find out. Oh, and by the way, if you find a charter school that shows it graduates more kids from college than any other public school, let me know. This would be newsworthy and different.