This is partially reprinted from the AJC opinion pages. Please click here to read the article in it's entirety.
By Graysen Walles
Monday, August 30, 2010
. . . We all know that the public school system as it is now designed cannot be the answer for the growing needs of our diverse community.
We have seen time and time again by means of reliable statistics and research that most of our public school systems are failing to prepare students for the 21st-century global community. These are facts, whether we want to face them or not.
The consistent message from families of all ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds in communities like Atlanta is that they want quality educational choice for their children.
In most cases, a traditional school system is not able to accommodate these choices as they are challenged with a myriad of complex issues, even much deeper that what can be seen with the naked eye. . . .
The charter school movement is an answer for many families around the country, as they provide what most traditional public schools cannot.
Quite honestly, at the current time, many of the students benefitting most from the charter movement are minority students and exceptional needs students.
That is why it is so difficult to digest the negative commentary that some civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP, have purported about charter schools.
On the contrary, charter schools are an answer to the challenges of our special education communities and minority communities, as charters provide specificity, flexibility and a level of nurturing for our students that traditional public school have a difficult time mastering.
I was encouraged to read recently that the leader of the National Urban League has clarified its position on charter schools, noting that it “wholeheartedly supports high-quality charter schools and the outcomes they produce for our nation’s children.”
Indeed, if there were any organizations that would support the charter school movement, it is my belief that civil rights organizations would. I would encourage more leaders of these organizations to visit charter schools that have been successful in densely poor communities such as New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta and Chicago.
Undoubtedly, these school communities would definitely provide these leaders with a new perspective about charters and the need for charters as a viable educational reform tool.
Some of the best charters have clearly been documenting best practices and invaluable research that speaks to closing the achievement gap for at least a solid decade.
Charter schools have moved beyond test tube theories. They are now established, valued and successful. . . .
Graysen Walles is the principal of Tech Charter High in Atlanta.
The research on charter schools shows that they are no more effective than public schools. Some do better than public schools, some do worse and most do the same. Successful charter schools are highly publicized, leading the public to believe that they are the magic cure to repairing public education. The truth of the matter is that if you give ALL schools the same resources as successful charters, all schools, no matter what they are called will be successful. Ron Clark and Harlem Zone have great teachers, dedicated parents, student accountability and community support and buy-in (and community money) and much more. Give any school those same things and they too will be successful.
But that's the caveat -- the school system as is will not give the resources directly to the schools so that they can use them for great teachers, dedicated parents, student accountability and community support and buy-in. This is going to have to be a forced transfer of power, IMO.
The Ron Clark model cannot survive. It consumes the teachers and burns them out once they decide to have a family.
I don't know about any other level than high school, but one of the main reasons that "regular" public high schools will not improve is because, typically, good teachers don't want to go there. Teaching at the troubled high schools of the world is an uphill battle, and a teacher has to fight from the minute she gets there in the morning until the moment she leaves the parking lot. Classroom management is a nightmare because the kids there have not been served for so long that they don't know what it is to participate, apply themselves, and play the game. It's not their fault, but there is only so much that one teacher can do for a whole classroom of students who are jaded about their school and are resentful about their lack of opportunities. Loving them and challenging them and giving them cupcakes is too-little-too-late by that age.
What a charter school can do-- not always-- is wipe the slate clean and change the students' perceptions. Then it may be possible for them to actually learn. I know from experience that it doesn't always work, particularly if the charter school doesn't play its hand right, but if the students believe that they have attained something-- a plum-- by gaining admission to a school, they will value it more and behave accordingly.
A school system should have no more that 2 high schools, 3 middle schools and 10-12 elementary schools. Such a system could function well with about a dozen administrators and the rest teachers. This would achieve good supervision, really local control (no racial politics) and maximize effective use of the "resources" that have grown exponentially until the last two years.
DCSS is too large for good management and is large enough to foster and hide nepotism, waste, fraud and abuse. All of the latter four are part of the DCSS culture.
Do you know what else is a civil right? An open, honest government agency that spends tax dollars effectively. Why is the DCSS hiding the past audits? Why have they given the majority of the Palace Guard huge pay increases, over the past 5 to 6 years, yet the paupers that are actually doing the real work get pay freezes and pension freezes.
We must have a check book that reveals all payments in the public eye, like most large school systems already have in place. We must have a leadership that is open and honest with the stakeholders and the folks who are paying for it. US!
We must demand that the current leadership, who got us in this mess and who is responsible for our failing students and abominable achievement overall, are shown the door!
These are the civil rights that I expect!
Some Charter Schools are more effective. However, many are not more effective. Many Charter Schools start because of choices and control of choices.
Charter System are also going to start springing up because of choices. However, some of these choices made can be bad and some good and the Charter Systems have less over-sight. Charter Systems can have more students in class than the state requires. Charter Systems do not have to have highly qualified certified staff which gives them more options. Charter Schools Systems can make choses about the math curriculum which most of us can understand. However, if the math curriculum is so horrible then the state needs to make changes.
I feel the math curriculum is good. However, it is way over some students' heads. Every student does not need to be exposed to college math in high school. When are these students going to use this math in their lives. Instead we need to be focused on providing more on-job training programs and vocational training for students and not cut-out academic path for all students in Georgia. One path in education does not fit all. This is what is wrong currently with our state program.
We must prepare students for success in the community and in the world. For some students success does not evolve around an understand of college math. Because of our expectations which some students cannot meet these students are dropping out of school and are ending up on our streets and in our jails.
This is not what is best for our students in Georgia. We must meet the needs of the individuals learners and stop trying to provide cookie cutter programs or college prep programs for every child. We are leaving our children behind in doing this. We are hurting the students who need help the most. We are LEAVING MANY STUDENTS BEHIND but also not given them the options to be successful, productive members of our society and this is wrong.
Actually, the most recent research on charter performance that we've shared on this blog before demonstrate that charters actually UNDER perform their non-charter counter parts.
I confess I have no first hand experience with charters. Based on the published data, my sense is that they are no panacea. In cynical moments, I see them as simply the latest way we distract ourselves from the work that we need to do in the public schools.
I think that what is being missed in DeKalb is the opportunity to learn from charters. It is clear, at least from the research that I have read, that longer school days and more of them are proving very effective for low income/at risk students.
Is DCSS using any of its Title 1 monies for this? Nah, just more purchasing of products.
No school will ever improve low income/at risk students' test scores if they are packed into classrooms full of 34 students. A longer school day or a longer school year would then have a chance to work, but any charter for at-risk students that doesn't cut class sizes in half is a waste of everyone's time and money.
Also, having high expectations for students and not making excuses for why students aren't doing the work. Right now not allowing students to receive zeros when earned, and multiple chances to make up poor or missing work is not doing our students favors. It is setting them up for failure in the real world.
Cerebration, do you have any idea what it would take to get DCSS split into several smaller school districts? I think that would be the first place to start. I don't think a system the size of DCSS can continue to function.
@ Kim Glocke
"Actually, the most recent research on charter performance that we've shared on this blog before demonstrate that charters actually UNDER perform their non-charter counter parts."
Many charters attract children who are having problems in school. Parents rarely move students if they are satisfied with the schools. Start-up charter schools also do not get the local funds that public schools get - only the state portion. There are many successful charter schools. Of all systems, parents in DCSS should realize that one size does not fit all. Charter schools are hard to start and hard to run. However, they can meet students' needs. Something that DCSS is certainly not doing now.
Start-up charter schools also do not get the local funds that public schools get - only the state portion
Not true. Start ups that are approved by the local school system get both local and state dollars. Commission approved schools in Ga also get both sets of dollars. Only charters that are state approved only are limited to state dollars. There are only a couple of these remaining.
On a national level, we know that charters attract a population that is poorer and more diverse than their systems/states. This does impact student achievement, but the argument that these charter starters have made is that we can do better with/by these students. So far, that isn't consistently proving true.
People can throw more money at public schools and open charter schools all they want, but until the matter of accountability on ALL sides is openly discussed, nothing will ever change. In all the years I have been teaching, I have never seen any group blamed for the woes of public education more than the teachers. When you honestly think about it, it's absurd to think that one entity can cause or solve all of the problems. Unless we acknowledge that parents must parent and administrators must lead as effectively as everyone expects teachers to teach, we're lost. It'll take open, honest dialogue to fix things.
Annonymous 7:38 the problem we have in our schools today is lack of support of many parents. You are correct that this is a problem. However, it is something as teachers and administrators we can just continue to try new strategies to get parent involvement. Parents still have control of their involvement and as educators we have no control of this. The only thing we have control of is to be accountable as teachers and administrators.
Parents have control of their involvement. We can encourage involvement but in the end we have no control of their involvement. However, it would be nice if parents did have to be accountable. But, this will not occur during my lifetime.
"Parents have control of their involvement"
Or just the middle class ones?
Because a lot of parents have no control of the fact that they have no transportation to come to conferences. They cannot control the fact that employers dock their pay if they take time off to come to the school.
They have no control over not speaking english, or being afraid to come to the school because they think we can turn them in to ICE (we cannot).
I could go on and on.
But the fact is.
NO Parents do not always have control of their involvement.
And the teacher (or school) sure as hell doesn't either.
As a parent, I waited to have children until I could be the best parent that I could be. I think that part of the problem is that people don't realize that it takes work to be a good parent, and they don't want to put that work into their children after a long day of work that they get paid for.
I am tired of hearing about parents not speaking English, work issues, transportation issues, etc.
If I go to another country to live, I must learn the language to communicate with others. Parents need to do this as well. My grandfather came here in the 20's, knew no English, learned English and refused for German to be spoken in the home, as he was an American.
I understand that everyone has to work and that times are tight, etc, etc, etc, however, my child comes first. If he is sick, I need to stay home with or without pay. If there are conferences or other meetings, I need to get myself there, to support my child's teacher and the education he/she is receiving.
If transportation is an issue, ask someone for a ride. Offer to pay for the gas. Fill out forms that the district sends about offering transportation to the Title One meetings. Take public transportation and walk if you have to.
I am sick and tired of excuses. I hear people complain about not having enough money, but they are walking around in designer clothes and shoes or driving an expensive car.
Life is about choices. I choose to put my child and his education first, because I don't want him living with me when he is 30 because he can't read or write or hold a job.
For goodness sakes, our schools feed our kids breakfast and lunch, do parents want them to feed them dinner and raise them as well?
Parents, you made a choice to have children, now do what it takes to raise them until they are an adult, and then you can have time for yourself once again. If you don't want to raise children, than don't have them, but don't make excuses as to why you are not there for them.
I wonder if the government stopped giving parents tax breaks on children, unless they showed up at their children schools and supported both the school and their children, if the apathy would stop?
Anon: 7:38. In DCSS it's not the teachers fault. It's the leadership or rather the lack there of. Clew created a world of friends and family in high places. He hid things from public view and had the BOE wrapped around his fingers.
He is gone however his legacy lives on! Has anyone from his "cabinet" been fired or let go? NO! That is the problem.
Until the BOE grows a spine, and let's hope the voters help that fact on November 2nd, and fire Tyson, Moseley, Turk, Thompson, Mitchell-Mayfield, Ramsey, Berry, Beasley, Hunter, any Guilroy or Edwards, and the rest nothing will change!
These folks has driven our schools into a ditch and as long as they are getting their high salaries there is no way they are going to go quietly. It's time for change at DCSS, we MUST see to it that it happens.
Every child has a right to:
1. A safe and clean learning environment
2. A competent teacher in a reasonably sized classroom
3. Abundant access to cutting edge science and technology equipment
Give every child these components and you will see who fast good teachers will flock to DCSS and stay there. This is what parents want. This is what taxpayers expect.
Teachers have no control over these 3 components. Admin and support personnel are totally accountable for providing children with these 3 simple rights. Indeed, admin and support jobs should only exist to provide students with these components. They do not teach students. Rather they are responsible for providing the necessary setting and tools for teaching students.
Admin and support personnel need to be measured on how well they meet these 3 objectives. DCSS needs to tie all admin and support jobs and pay to meeting these objectives.
Anon 10:07, you are my hero! Finally, someone speaks the truth without any PC or BS. And Anon 9:31, please explain how some parents have no control over not speaking english. That is such a ridiculous statement and the reason many people do not take responsibility for their own actions. Others like you will be there to make excuses for them.
A few years ago, a North Carolina school district required parents to come in and get the report cards in elementary schools and required parents to show up at conferences at the high school if they wanted their child to have a parking space or participate on a team.
I wish I could remember the school district's name to see how it is doing now.
When I taught in Chicago-Chicago Public Schools-, parents were to come in to get their report cards. They were only sent home the last day of school. The children received report cards 4 times a year and for the first 3 parent conferences were required to obtain a report card. Those nights were long, as we had conferences from 12-8pm, but they were valuable, because I was able to connect with the parents. The children like when their parents come to the school, and I think it's a great ways for schools to get parents involved.
It's a trend! Another education-focused documentary has emerged and you can view it tonight for free --
Get Your Inside Look at Charter Schools
Free Screening of The Lottery Tonight!
Learn about charter schools, why they are an important part of public education and how they are making a difference for thousands of students across the nation.
Join the Center for an Educated Georgia and our partners at the Georgia Charter School Association and Georgia Parent Advocacy Network (G-PAN) for a free screening of The Lottery, an award-winning documentary about the charter school movement. A short panel discussion after the film will discuss the impact of and need for more high quality charter schools in Georgia.
Panelists will include:
State Representative Alisha Morgan (moderator)
Lonnie King, Atlanta civil rights leader
Nina Gilbert, founder of Ivy Preparatory Academy
What: Free encore screening of The Lottery
When: Tonight! September 30, 2010. Doors open at 6pm, film begins at 6:30pm
Where: United Way of Metro Atlanta -- Loudermilk Conference Center
40 Courtland Street, NE
Atlanta, GA 30303-2538
MARTA: Georgia State Station (E-1)
Admission: Free with complimentary refreshments!
The Lottery follows four families through the highs and lows of a life-changing lottery, where the prize is a spot in one of New York City's best public charter schools. When presented with a chance to pull their children out of a failing system, some parents dare to be cautiously optimistic, knowing full well there are hundreds of thousands of kids in the pool.
See the trailer
If you want to better understand charter schools, go and visit start up charter schools, ask the leaders and teachers questions. These movies and documentary do not give the full picture of charter schools. I love a good charter school, however, I also love a good public or private school. I just want good schools.
I wish that instead of focusing on one movement that the documentary makers worked on showing schools that work, so that people would get an idea of what they could be doing differently in their school and community.
What I have found from being in many charter schools around the country, is that they do not rely on programs. The teachers do research on best practices and use them to drive their instruction making the best practices fit their children. They also lay the truth out for the children. The children are told that they are reading at a 4th grade level and are in 11th grade and that they will help them read better, but the that child has to be willing to work hard.
These are conversations that don't happen in most public schools. Public schools focus on helping a child feel good and keep on with instruction even when it's not sinking in. Where good charter schools focus on the reality and work to bring a child from point a to point b. Realizing that the scores will come, when the children have the necessary skills.
Please turn away from hate filled judgmental rants.
The Bible sys:
"Blessed are the poor.."
"..you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."
"Judge not, that you not be judged"
All Matthew, I believe.
Perhaps you are not a Christian, but it is my understanding that all the worlds major religions teach marcy, love and understanding toward others, and do not encourage judgement.
@ Sept 27 10:07
Well aren't you just little Mr or Ms Perfect Parent.
The kid is ALWAYS first, job or anything else be damned. You were raised by the right kind of immigrant, and have stellar family values.
I wish all my student's parents were like you.
But they are not.
So, why is it that the school and especially the teacher is supposed to be punished for parents who are not quite as wonderful as you?
Exactly how is the failure of the "new immigrant" to live up to the fine example you and your family set, my fault?
Because I sure am suffering for it.
Anon:September 28, 2010 7:56 PM
You need me to explain about parents not speaking English:
I will use small words.
Hope you can follow it.
You see,there are these things called refugees.They were in camps. LIke, fleeing form rape, murder and other really nasty things in their home country.
So, this thing called the UN (it is a big building in New York) helps them move to Atlanta.
They really did not have time for the whole Rosetta Stone English course on the plane over here.
So, you see, they really do not speak any English.
Anything else you need help with?
Charter schools can be really good, average or downright bad. In that way, there are no different than any other type of school.
Many charters do rely on a program, often a very scripted method of delivering the curriculum with lots of drilling and testing. This is the formula used by many of the Education Management Organizations.
I am curious how things are going at Peachtree Hope, the commission charter school in/near the McNair cluster. I know that they had 1000 or so applicants for 500ish spaces, but I am wonder how they are managing. Anyone heard anything?
You said they have "no control" over not speaking English which is different from "not speaking English". Many people come to this country not speaking English, but they learn (i.e. many of our grandparents). When you say a person has no control that means they can't do anything about the situation. What is preventing the non-English speakers from seeking out a church, library, Latino center, etc. that offers English language instruction? One of the "Lost Boys" of the Sudan spoke to my students a few years ago in perfect English. When I asked him how he learned to speak so well, he said he worked very hard to learn. (You could have used bigger words; I would have understood them.)
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