Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Word Charters Leave Out

The sales pitch, in various versions, pops up every time charter cheerleaders are pushing charters as the Big Solution in education.

"We know how to educate poor minority students."

The implication, of course, is that public schools don't know how to get the job done. The use of civil rights rhetoric further pushes the idea that charters can rescue non-wealthy, non-white students from a public school system that either can't or won't provide them with the education they need and deserve.

The problem with this assertion, however, is the words that charter fans invariably omit from the pitch.

The word is "some."

As in, "We know how to educate some poor minority students."

And that's a problem. That single word is the difference between a pitch that makes compelling sense and one that is simply a pack of weasel words. Let me tell you why.

First, some stipulations:

I'm going to skip for the moment my usual objections that the measures being used to determine whether a school is successful or not are grade-A useless baloney. Let's just pretend for the moment that we know how to measure student success.

And we can also insert my usual disclaimer here that not all charters are problematic, and particularly back before the rise of the modern investment-driven hedge-fundie charters, there have been charters that have truly added to the public education landscape. So I don't automatically hate charter schools.

I'm also going to acknowledge right up front that we have many schools and school districts that are not doing right by non-wealthy non-white students. That problem is real, and I am not going to pretend for a moment that if we just make modern charter schools go away, things will automatically be both hunky and dory.

So, what is the problem with--

We know how to educate some poor minority students

Problem #1: That is not the gig.

The public education gig is to educate all students. All. Students. Not some, not a few, but all. One of my objections to the rise of the modern charter is that it's a quiet re-write of the public education mission-- let's stop trying to educate everyone and just focus on the chosen few, and put Those Children in the underfunded holding pen that we'll call public school.

Some charter fans are open and honest about this; Mike Petrilli has noted that a charter mission should be to give "strivers" a place to get away from Those Other Students. But other charter fans deliberately obscure their omission of "some" and tout their ability to get good results with a few students as a sign that they know something that public schools do not.

Problem #2: This is not news.

I think this is one of the things about modern charters that absolutely drives public school teachers nuts. Charters want to claim that because they can achieve success with a small, select sample of students, they Know Something About Education. Dude, those of us in public education have known since forever that if we were free to pick and choose our students and could just get rid of the ones who don't want to learn the way we want to teach, we would look like education rock stars. Everyone knows that.

So when Boston charters start talking about their awesome results without also talking about their awesome attrition (and non-backfill) rates. When your charter system can point to a grand total of fifteen black males who went on to graduate from college, you are not showing us anything that public schools couldn't quickly and easily replicate-- if we were allowed to change the nature of the gig (see problem #1).

Bottom line

Some charters cream, deliberately, as a matter of policy (like these charters in California that got caught). Some cream more organically by targeting particular parts of the market with their advertising, and of course all charters self-select for families that are more involved in their child's education (and ask any public school teacher how schools would change if we had only the students of families that cared about education).

And we don't talk enough about the importance of the no-backfill rules in operation in many charter markets, guaranteeing that no new students ever come in in the middle of a multi-year program. Again- we already know that no-backfill would work, but that's not the public education gig.

There are charter fans who know better. Chris Barbic left the Tennessee Achievement School District noting that it's hard to raise the success rate of schools when you have to keep all the students that live in that school's community.

Anybody can do a good job of educating some students. Modern charter advocates should stop pretending they have invented the wheel. And if they really want to be honest, they can start using that one simple word-- some.


  1. Another branch of the totally unaccredited and thus, misleadingly-named “Relay Graduate School of Education (Relay G.S.E.)” just opened up shop in Denver, and many folks in education there aren’t too happy about it.

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    “But Ken Zeichner, a professor at the University of Washington’s College of Education, argues that (a student’s high test score) is not enough. In the brief released last week, he writes that test scores are ‘a limited measure of success’ — and one relied upon too heavily by Teacher Prep 2.0 programs. Such programs, he argues, focus on preparing teachers to teach ‘other people’s children,’ meaning those living in high-poverty neighborhoods.

    “ ‘From my perspective, by only looking at test scores, we’re creating a second-class education for poor children in this country that (is) just about test scores,’ Zeichner said in an interview.

    “Instead, he writes that teacher preparation programs, including university-based programs, should be judged by a mix of factors, including standardized test scores and how their graduates increase students’ social and emotional skills, creativity and problem-solving abilities.

    ” … ”

    “One by one, the prospective teachers spent a minute delivering instructions — praising obedient students and correcting those off task — at breakneck pace. It’s a classroom management style used in many charter schools and increasingly in traditional district schools too.

    “Some, including Zeichner, have criticized the style, which they say is primarily used in schools that serve poor students of color, as ‘highly controlling.’ Teachers who use it expect students to sit up straight, listen and ‘track’ whomever is speaking with their eyes.

    ” (Relay’ G.S.E.’s) Hostetter said she doesn’t understand that criticism (of Relay G.S.E.’s pedagogy and practices).

    “’ It’s pretty straightforward,’ she said.”
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    Oh boy, this got Relay G.S.E. critic “CONCERNED EDUCATOR” riled up:

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    “I want to just point out that, by placing students of low socio-economic status in this light, you have highlighted a very important gap that we are perpetuating by allowing the language of Relay G.S.E. to continue.

    “Yes, students who grow in homes with severe trauma need specific psychological structures and interventions in place, because their brains function differently, and have been altered by the toxic stress.

    “However, NOT ALL STUDENTS IN POVERTY HAVE GROWN UP IN TOXIC STRESS ENVIRONMENTS. Making this assumption lowers our expectations, and devalues those students. You are making assumptions that devalue children, and Relay perpetuates that. We can value the culture of our students without assuming that culture is negative.

    “In addition, assuming that our impoverished children ‘need’ a negative, controlling structure creates prison-like environments, where we do not teach critical thinking skills or self-awareness, but locks children into negative patterns of thought and behavior.

    “We also perpetuate the opportunity gap, because we are denying students the opportunity to have the education that wealthy white students have, simply by making the assumption that ‘those students need structure.’

    “ALL CHILDREN NEED STRUCTURE. ALL children also deserve the opportunity to have an education that prepares them to excel to their greatest potential, which does not mean treating them like prisoners.

    “Relay G.S.E. perpetuates this cycle of creating sub-par education for students, based on the excuse of’ those kids’ (always meaning children in poverty and non-white children) needing more ‘structure’. SOME students with trauma need more specific interventions, but ALL children deserve the chance to be a child.”
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    “RELAY G.S.E. PROPONENT” then incorrectly claims that Relay G.S.E. student teachers are attending Relay G.S.E. “to earn their Master’s Degrees.”

    Jeanne Kaplan’s replies that Relay G.S.E. does not award accredited “Master’s Degrees.”
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    ” ‘To earn their master’s degrees…’ ?

    “Teachers cannot acquire a Master’s Degree because the ‘Relay Graduate School of Education’ is not a certified Graduate Program.

    “The (Relay G.S.E.) ‘degree’ is bogus.

    “Students are being taught by unlicensed people.”
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    In a now-deleted comment (which I’m reconstructing via inferences) “RELAY G.S.E. PROPONENT” replies by saying that traditional teaching programs are all failures, according to the data, and that research proves that Relay alone works. Again, from Kaplan’s response, it appears that Relay G.S.E.



    Jeanne Kaplan ain’t havin’ it.

    Kaplan also wants to know if Relay G.S.E. is paying rent at the public school building where it holds it courses

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    “Who are you?

    “Identify yourself, at least. I could say the same about you. I could also call you names. That is the MO of most ‘debates’ in America today.

    “Biased resources. Only you ignore data that shows repeated failure (of Relay G.S.E.’s pedagogy, or of “No Excuses”, high-discipline, highly-regimented charter schools.)


    However, it’s in the Comments section of the above Chalkbeat article that things get most interesting:

    Someone (whom I now call “Relay G.S.E.Proponent”) in the Comments section kind of deviated from the usual school privatization script, a script that states that ...

    PARTY LINE: “Relay G.S.E. is meant for ALL students of EVERY socio-economic and ethnic background, and NOT, as some have accused, merely something that is inflicted solely on poor people of color, and thus, in a discriminatory fashion.”

    In contrast to that bogus party line, “Relay G.S.E. Proponent” admits that yeah, Relay IS JUST for poor black and brown folks, and here’s WHY.

    This predictably infuriated other commenters, including the outspoken Jeanne Kaplan.

    When challenged, he or she deleted everything that he or she posted (with quote remnants present in the Comments responding to him or her. Again, I’m calling this poster “Relay G.S.E. Proponent” as her or she deleted her on-line handle all with his/her posts.)

    Again, go the COMMENTS section HERE:

    Check out this doozy of a quote that includes Relay G.S.E. Proponent’s claim that Relay G.S.E. pedagogy should only be used in poor communities, but not in wealthy communities — and HOW and WHY that is so …
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    “Kids from less affluent areas are typically raised in a much different household than those in affluent households. Moreover, those kids raised in affluent households in most cases need less teaching and structure and more flexibility.

    “If they’re in an affluent family, they likely have educated ‘ parents and are being afforded opportunities in their family life to learn.

    “Kids from impoverished areas? Not so much. They need structure in their classroom. They need to be reminded to track and listen to the teacher most likely.

    “They (poor black ‘n brown folks) need a different type of teacher.”
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    “As for (the claim that) there is no research (that Relay G.S.E. is ineffective) – I beg to differ. I have actually talked to people who have undergone the Relay G.S.E. indoctrination. Some have quit. Many have ended up in great debt.

    “I ask again : is Relay G.S.E. paying rent (for the public facilities in Denver that it’s now using)?

    “And please don’t take the chicken way out and not identify yourself. Transparency is another trait lost in ‘education reform.’ ”
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    “Relay G.S.E. Proponent” didn’t just “take the chicken way out” and not identify himself / herself.

    He / she quickly deleted everything which he/she had earlier posted.

    Kind of like Eva with her Success Academy training videos.

  4. Greene: "So when Boston charters start talking about their awesome results without also talking about their awesome attrition (and non-backfill) rates. When your charter system can point to a grand total of fifteen black males who went on to graduate from college, you are not showing us anything that public schools couldn't quickly and easily replicate-- if we were allowed to change the nature of the gig (see problem #1)."

    You provide links in that paragraph to two articles that contain errors. Problems of the first, the one by Jersey Jazzman, are detailed in the comments to that piece. Boston charter school attrition is, in reality, lower than JJ suggests.

    And the Edushyster article makes claims based on a misunderstanding of our Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data underlying the Boston Opportunity Agenda Report Card. Pls. see my interaction with Andrea Gabor addressing the same issue:

    The research on Boston charter schools has been quite diligent in attempting to measure effects independent of overall differences in student populations.

    Some studies only compare lottery participants who have or have not won admission. And, according to CREDO's virtual control record methodology, the results for the typical student in a Boston charter equated "to more than twelve months of additional learning per year in reading and thirteen months greater progress in math. At the school level, 83 percent of Boston charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their district school peers in reading and math, and no Boston charter schools were found to have significantly lower learning gains."

    Recall, that is not relative to the average traditional public school student, but rather relative to those who have been matched in respect to English proficiency, special ed status, starting test scores, gender, ethnicity, lunch status and grade level.

    I think if you wish to gainsay Boston charter school success, you'll need to stop suspending disbelief and return, exhausted, to the opinion that "measures being used to determine whether a school is successful or not are grade-A useless baloney."