The charter school was on the top floor of a public school, I whiled away my time at the desk as security eventually called upstairs. As I trekked up the stairs I looked down the hallways of the public school, the teachers were shabbily dressed, loud angry noises from a few classrooms, too many kids in the hallways. As I walked out on the floor of the charter school a student, wearing the school uniform came up to me and introduced himself and asked if could be of assistance.
If I was a parent, which school would I want my child to attend?
We want orderly schools; the tone of a school to me drives the academics, as my superintendent was fond of repeating, “Order precedes learning.”
Networks were a failed attempt to create clusters of schools, affinity groups of schools working together, growing together, and creating a common culture. The department espoused the school leader as a CEO, in reality the system remained a top-down accountability-driven hierarchy. The network leadership was mediocre and school leaders fled to networks and Partnership Support Organizations (PSO) that were “helpful” and not intrusive. Unfortunately too many principals allowed their lives to be dominated by School Progress Reports and Quality Reviews to the exclusion of a laser-like focus on teaching and learning in collaborative settings.
Scattered around the city are highly effective schools, schools that parents fight to get into, public schools, not charter schools.
If you are against charter schools you are against quality education, you are against school reform. Gina Belfante in her New York Times article demurs,
When he was campaigning for mayor, Bill de Blasio had an enlightened formulation — that charter schools, though they educate only 6 percent of the city’s children, had usurped nearly all the conversation, and that this was an unhealthy proportion. And yet since he was elected he has been too lost in the morass to reframe and reorient the discussion.
The mayor has allowed charter school advocates, whose public-relations machine would seem to rival the operations of Paramount in the 1940s, to continue to leave too many people believing that if you are against charter schools you are against “change,” and thus by default a friend of laziness and mediocrity. To even question the motives or practices of charter schools is to be a supplicant in the cult of the teachers’ union, which is its own absurdity, just as it is a disgrace that the term “education reform” has come to refer almost exclusively to the charter movement, belying the innovation that can happen within regular public schools.
If the mayor’s messaging were more robust, determined and aggressive, he might draw attention to hybrid schools, which strive to offer poor children something like the experience of a private education within the context of the traditional public system, using union teachers.
The Eagle Academy Foundation is a consortium of five schools, grades 6-12, with an all Afro-American male student body. The schools are public schools operating under the union contract. 82% of the student body is accepted to college, well beyond the stats for Afro-American males. The students wear white shirts and ties; the school is orderly, a heavy emphasis on mentoring and counseling. The schools look and feel like charter schools – there only real comparison is fund raising. The Eagle Academy struggles to raise money to supplement department of education funding, the hedge fund entrepreneurs who so richly fund charter schools shun the Eagle Academy – their sin: they hire union teachers.
The Eagle Academy Foundation has a much harder time raising money. “A lot of the Wall Street, hedge fund guys are not pro-union guys,” David C. Banks, the Eagle Academy Foundation’s president and chief executive told me. “It’s not the world they come from. They see charters as places of innovation, and that’s the narrative the business community wants to support. I’ve had people say to me, straight up, ‘We’re not just funding a school, we’re funding a philosophy, and that philosophy is anti-union.’ ”
The International High Schools are a consortium of fourteen grades 9-12 high schools, they only enroll student who have been in the country four years or less. The graduation rate far exceeds both the city and state rates for English language learners. The schools are supported by the Internationals High School Network, a not-for-profit that must raise funds to provide professional development for their schools. The schools are all characterized by a high level of teacher involvement in all aspects of school organization – the schools are models of “practitioner lead” collaboration. The schools are department of education schools operating under the union contract. (Read article on page 19 by International Network leader Claire Sylvan)
Generations High School, located in South Shore High School has a 200-day student instructional year – teachers work under the teacher contract – the school worked out an arrangement with union – the teachers work the same number of days as all other teachers.
The anti-union bias is unfortunate – some of the innovative schools/programs engaging the most at-risk students are public schools working under the union contract.
In the 90’s District 22 in Brooklyn fully implemented School and District Leadership Teams and school-based budgeting. The district provided in-depth training for school teams, in classroom setting and tutorials. One school created a school within a school, another used state and federal funds to extend the school day, the district asked the chancellor to designate the district as a charter district with wider latitude over the expenditure of funds – request denied.
As the department moves to redesign itself it must realize the real innovation is bottom up, the antithesis of the current rigid Tweed driven accountability structure.
Hiring the innovators, the best and the brightest, the smartest, the most dedicated leaders, both teachers and supervisors with proven records of success and supporting there efforts will create effective schools.
A message to hedge funders: the absence of unions does not make for effective schools – teachers and school leaders make for great schools, dedicated, smart folks make differences.
The deepest education thinkers of the last century – John Dewey and Al Shanker, were union members.