Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Kids on the Block

This year, another school opened it's doors in the same building where my school operates. However, this new school isn't another high school, it's an elementary charter school run by a popular charter school network. With the opening of this charter school, there are now six schools operating in the same building. Of these, four are public high schools, one is a public transfer high school (where I teach), and now we have an elementary charter school on the ground level.

Of course, these new kids on the block don't have to go through the metal detectors every other student has to go through in my building, they have their own entrance. I'm not bitching about this, no children should have to go through metal detectors, young or old. What I am going to bitch about is the glaring difference between how their school looks and operates versus my own.

I went perusing through their hallways last week and was shocked to see how much their school reminded me of being in an affluent suburban high school. Their halls were decorated with posters, signs, school colors, school mottos, motivational quotes, surprisingly good student work, art, etc.

This was to be expected. In order for a student to be admitted into a charter school, parents must submit their child's name into a lottery. And therein lies the problem: kids whose parents take initiative to submit their names into a lottery for a "better school" will almost always be better off than kids with no parental involvement, support, or encouragement. If you'd like research to support this claim, refer to exhibit A - the last two years of my life.

For anyone who has visited or seen my school, it looks like a jail. Whatever is posted on the walls looks half-assed, at best. We don't have anyone designated to "pretty-o-fy" our hallways. Most of our bulletin boards are barren. We have a sad-looking poster that reads "Our attendance last week was: [fill in a number under 60% here]. Can we make it to 80%?"
Side note: No, we can't make it to 80%. We're a transfer school for kids with attendance issues. How can you not know this, poster maker?!
We're a "21st century" school, but we don't have a computer lab. We have school colors, but they're not visible unless you visit the school's website. Parents rarely visit our school. In fact, we are the ones who have to visit our kids' homes to figure out why our students haven't been coming to school for weeks on end.

The differences between public schools and public charter schools are becoming glaringly ridiculous. And sadly, our country's education system continues to compare these two institutions as if it's a competition to see what model works best for the kids. That would be like comparing the Chicago Bulls to the U.S.A. Olympic basketball team. I'm saying this as a Bulls fan.

The new charter school movement is based on ideas within the private sector. Free market principles. Their motto is that parents should have a choice on where to send their children to school. Bad schools should close down and move on for better ones. This idea has no mercy for the majority of children in lower-income households whose parents aren't actively involved in their lives. The "neighborhood school" suddenly doesn't matter to an involved parent anymore: who cares if it has problems when you can send your child to a better school an hour away? Some children in NYC commute 90 minutes each way to arrive at the school they won the lottery for.

Charter schools have what public school principals have wet dreams about: the ability to "counsel out" students they don't want or don't "fit" the culture. These students get sent back to a regular public school, probably the school where they live closest to. Public schools can't do that, they have to work with what they get. My school is packed with students who used to be in charter schools.

Charters can also accept funding from other sources. They can fiddle around with their budgets to pay teachers better, and thus, attract some of the hardest working teachers who grow weary of the politics that exist within public school systems.

If public schools ultimately become the place where students who aren't "intelligent enough" or don't have enough parental involvement go, then our country's intellectual capital is... well, fucked really. Public education was created based on the notion that all children deserve a good education. We're modifying this to all children with involved parents deserve a good education.

Attention poor people: quit your jobs so that you may wait in long lines to submit your child's name into a lottery in which you may or may not win. Stop being lazy, dammit.


Mr. and Miss When you are really a teacher, you don't have a last name. said...

I think that your points are valid for the most part. However, I have to say that in my last six years of teaching I have worked at 5 different schools (four of them public, one charter.) When I worked at your school, it had the most money, the most support from adults, the most talented staff members of any of the other schools I spent time at. But it's character and success was far, far below what I see at other places.
Right now, the public school I work at in Brooklyn doesn't have half of the resources that your school has-also, most of the kids don't go through any sort of interview process and are not coming to school for that "second chance," which often times means that they don't really understand the value of a first chance. They have to arrive at 7:30 or earlier to get through the metal detectors and be on time for the start of the day at 8:20, and if I arrive at 8:10, there's a line out my door. And our hallways are worlds away from what I experienced back at that school when we worked together. Attendance is something that has to be worked on as a school proactively AND reactively- and if kids are allowed to make up all their work later on in the semester, or find it all online for that matter- how can we expect them to come? The consequences for leaving early or cutting are serious, and that's only due to a diligent discipline system and a dean that doesn't play around.
I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not sure the school that was lucky enough to snag you (a freaking GEM of an educator) fresh out of Wall Street, and hold on to you for this long- is the best place to compare to a charter school when looking into the public vs. charter movement. Well I don't guess, that's definitely what I'm saying. I hope it makes sense.

Yo Mista said...

@ Miss Em:
First of all, thanks for your comment! Really do appreciate it :-)

I do agree with you on your main point - my school lacks strong policies, a system of consequences, and also lacks management with follow through. It has become increasingly clear to me that far more than an "effective teacher" we need "effective leadership" in schools.

However, I do disagree about us having "the most money" and "the most support from adults."

"The most money" - I guess this is all relative because a school may have an unlimited supply or may receive some type of funding from outside "network", but unless the school utilizes this money in an effective manner, it is truly pointless. Our school chose to buy laptop carts for every classroom, rather than invest in a computer lab, teacher space, more teachers, or another dean - all things the school needed a lot more. It's hard to build from the ground up when you have a lack luster foundation.

"The most support from adults" - I guess I'm just confused about this remark. Yes in our first year together as a school, both admin and teaching staff were united in culture and spirit, but that bridge soon burned. Parental involvement has deteriorated even more, and I thought it was bad our first year. Could you be a little more specific about what you meant here?

Thanks again Miss Em, you're the best!

Mr. and Miss When you are really a teacher, you don't have a last name. said...

You are right on every point. Most money was meant on the literal level- most funding available. and most support from adults was most adults employed relative to number of students- before attendance issues even. As in Teachers and CBO- nothing to do with the culture or relationships among them. And I want to reiterate that when I said "most" I was talking about in comparison to the other schools I've experienced.

You Are The BEST

Yo Mista said...

@ Miss Em:
Makes sense. Thanks for the clarification!

Teig Domi said...

I tend to agree with your comments on parental involvement. There was this awesome analogy regarding schools that Jim Norton used to describe his comedy... in which he said if a kid gets good grades, its because of the parents; if a kid gets poor grades, its because the teacher failed him/her.

Parents are more than willing to pick up awards and claim responsibility for greatness, but when it comes to their children being in a less-than-stellar environment, they either A) don't care enough to take action, or B) the only action they take is to complain.

In closing, you should bring a broom to PTA night and force anyone who shows up to clean a bathroom.

Yo Mista said...

@ Teig:
Thanks for your comment!

I've heard the analogy, it's so true... I constantly fail students, I guess. Sad face.

Unfortunately, if I follow your PTA rule, it will be most of the teachers cleaning up the bathroom...

Mr. and Miss When you are really a teacher, you don't have a last name. said...
check this article out.

Yo Mista said...

@ Miss Em:
Thanks for this!