Tag: Gotham Schools


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Time to Move Beyond the School District Model of Public Education


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A problem among the non-research and non-practice “educators” at university schools of education (and also found among some teachers) is this mistaken conceit that public education is somehow highly correlated…

Think this family cares what the ed school crowd thinks? Me neither. (Courtesy of COGIC)

A problem among the non-research and non-practice “educators” at university schools of education (and also found among some teachers) is this mistaken conceit that public education is somehow highly correlated (and even equals) Democracy, despite the fact that there are numerous dictatorships which also successfully educate their populations. Cuba and the old Soviet Union are two that come to mind.

This faulty thinking extends even into their concept of how public education should be designed. In their minds, the concept of public education cannot abide any rethinking of the status quo. If it doesn’t involve the direct operational control of a school by an elected official or body, it cannot be public. The fact that so much of public education outside of K-12 — for example, public universities (which derive most of their budgets from tuition, federal financial aid dollars and restricted public and private grants) — doesn’t fit such a definition never factors into their thinking. Nor do they ever consider whether the status quo is any more accountable in realistic terms than a model that involves privately-managed institutions that serve the public good.

One such observer still stuck in old school thinking is Alexander Hoffman, a doctoral student at Columbia’s famed Teachers College, who managed to get Gotham Schools to let him take some 1,300 words to explain what he could have said in less than half. Public charter schools may be “quasi-public” schools, but they are not to him public schools. Why? You can wade through this piece if you so choose. I”ll do the Mickey Kaus method and save you the time: The sum of the argument is that charters aren’t public schools because their boards aren’t elected — and therefore, unaccountable to the public — while they supposedly don’t have to accept all children and therefore, unaccountable for the public good.

Hoffman doesn’t accept the fact that charters are highly-regulated by the school districts and authorizing agencies that oversee them, must provide a full open accounting of their finances and accept all students via a lottery system that unlike magnet schools and selective schools such as Stuyvesant, must accept all students via lottery for all the seats they have. He manages to compare charters to restaurants even though the latter (along with most businesses and many nonprofits) don’t have to disclose their finances in writing to any public body (the IRS filing, which isn’t public information, doesn’t count). Declares Hoffman: “The fact of regulation does not make these entities public.”

There are more than a few flaws in Hoffman’s argument. I’ll hit on the most-important flaw: A willing ignorance of something called the law, which in some 42 states deigns charters as public schools on nearly equal fiscal and operational footing as traditional public schools (in most states, they are considered districts and corporations). Sure the ed school crowd chooses to ignore this fact and indulges in philosophical blathering (by the way, this explains why they are failing to adequately train aspiring teachers). But ignorance of the law, to paraphrase that old saw, is no excuse to evading reality. Essentially the argument over whether charters are public schools truly ended twenty years ago when Minnesota authorized the first batch of them.

The bigger problem with Hoffman’s thesis lies in the mindset of the writer and those who share his philosophy: They are far more concerned with philosophy than with practice. Essentially, they would rather indulge in thesis than in figuring out the more-important question of how to assure that every child receives the highest-quality education possible.

See, when a third of America’s children drop out annually into lives of crime and poverty, the question of what is “public education” can no longer be academic. The focus must be on turning around — or shutting down — dropout factories; improving the quality of academic instruction; staffing classrooms with teachers ready to teach every child no matter their socioeconomic background; offering rigorous, challenging curricula; engaging parents and the community in improving school quality; and providing as many educational options as possible in order for every child to get the education they need. The current system was never really equipped for that purpose and it isn’t achieving these goals now.

From where school reformers sit, this is ultimately achievable by abandoning the traditional definition of public education — a school district that runs school buildings — but by a more-expansive system of funding the best choices for each child. It doesn’t matter whether the child wants to attend a traditional public school, a public charter, a Catholic school or one run by Marva Collins. One could even see a situation in which students are served by teachers who are paid by families through a voucher (credit for this idea goes to Iowa principal Deron Durflinger). The matter is whether they get the best education possible and that we make sure that the money is there to make it happen.

Hoffman and company are encouraged to join this conversation in a more meaningful way than they do now. It would be nice if they accepted the offer and pitched in to do the work.

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Read: Monday Morning Memo Edition


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What’s happening in the dropout nation: How many teachers — and schools — use the Internet to engage with parents? Jay Mathews notices that many teachers stubbornly won’t do so….

Cartoon by Gary Varvel

Cartoon by Gary Varvel

What’s happening in the dropout nation:

  1. How many teachers — and schools — use the Internet to engage with parents? Jay Mathews notices that many teachers stubbornly won’t do so. Unfortunately, as with much with the use of technology and data in education, this isn’t so shocking. It would be great to have a technology argument in education similar to what’s going on in the media business.
  2. Julia Steiny on the overuse of harsh school discipline: “Schools banish kids often and self-righteously.. It’s barbaric.”
  3. Big Ed Reform Andy #1 provides a round-up of Race to the Top news out of the Wolverine State. As I had mentioned in October, for many states, it is as much a pursuit of the dollars as it is about achieving substantial education reform. This isn’t a bad thing if the correct results are achieved.
  4. Tom Vander Ark wants the nation’s dropout factories to be fixed or replaced. Who can disagree? This should also apply to the schools that serve as feeders into them.
  5. Mark Kleiman thinks the No Child Left Behind Act’s focus on testing all students at just one point in a school year is rather inefficient; according to him, management guru W. Edwards Deming would be “appalled” by it. Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be an either-or. All students need to be tested in order to assure that each child gets the highest-quality education possible based on his needs. At the same time, sampling would also make sense to do in order to see the long-term results of broad-based reforms. How about that.
  6. School reform isn’t about popularity. Judging by the protests over the closing of Jamaica High and a few other New York City schools, Joel Klein and company know this all too well.
  7. Meanwhile in New Jersey, Gov.-elect Chris Christie is looking to expand a limited public school choice program, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. If successful, New Jersey would be following up on California’s recent expansion of a similar program.
  8. Want to learn more about how many California students aren’t making it from high school into college. Check out Measuring Success, Making Progress, which is funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (hat tip to The Educated Guess).

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