Sunday, May 02, 2010


Dear Readers: It’s good to lay out the arguments and debate charter schools now before we get in to deep one way or another. ….Here are comments regarding the argument. Diana

Playwithmum posted this in on May 1 in regard Bennett’s earlier post: See his reply below and his earlier letter as an older post. In addition, you can read the story I wrote about charters and their future! Good reading to you.


“This is a polarizing issue and parents will take whatever steps they feel necessary to have some say in their community and schools. Is this the fault of a huge bureaucracy like LAUSD? Absent parents? Or the union, also created first to protect teachers rights, now in a gray area that is not necessarily in the students' best interests when it comes to hiring/firing, competency, and accountability? There is plenty of blame to go around but our kids are caught in the middle. Parents who create charter schools have often tried and failed to change existing, low performing neighborhood schools and have taken the only other option they have. Starting a Charter school takes extraordinary commitment and organization, and to devalue them as shoddy workmanship is disingenuous.

Our children are the hands of teachers and yet we have no control over the selection, oversight, or evaluation process. Until this is remedied, then charters will continue to develop so parents can have more say in how, where, and by whom their children are taught. For the sake of students in existing charter schools, let's hope that they don't all fail as Mike Bennet predicts. This isn't about proving anyone wrong, but focusing on solutions that actually work. And many charter schools do.”

Former teacher Mike Bennett’s response:

First, I would like to say Thank You, and I do understand your thoughts and feelings pertaining to Charter Schools. There are many facets to this subject, the entire Educational quandary we find ourselves in and often Charters appear to be a better choice. However, I have some serious concerns about many of them being nothing more than a “Dog & Pony Show,” appearing as the best solution to our Educational woes.

Yes, Teacher Evaluations (STUL) are often perfunctory and need to be overhauled and yes, there are many classroom teachers who should not be in the classroom, but I sincerely question those who are taking their place.

It should be noted that they (Charters) have far more choice in how their operations are run, than the schools they are replacing, with regards to curriculum, staffing and student discipline, yet while these may be advantageous at first, what will the long-term outcomes be.

Let’s start with curriculum, which can be far more interesting and even advanced when compared to the norm, but I question why many Charters have begun to hire CAHSEE Exam Tutors (California High School Exit Examination), for their students if their curriculum is so far superior.

Second, with regards to staffing, many are using Teach For America Interns, (among others) who (with regards to teaching) have nothing more than an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League or usually Little Ivies (other prestigious institutions) College and a 4-6 week Inner-City Boot-camp, which serves as their introduction to education, before being released into the classroom.

Frankly, I admire their interest and dedication, but sadly, they are only required to attend Graduate Teacher Education (paid for them) and complete their two-year contract with the organization. Yes, they also have Supervision from their sponsor and another from the graduate program institution they attend (such as my former self); yet while some finish and receive their Clear Credential, many are only there for “Brownie Points” to help fulfill their community service portion on their application to Law/Medical/… School. Many have no intention of remaining in Education.

Consequently Schools get well educated, dedicated and wide-eyed young Teachers, with little educational background, little to no experience/understanding of the cultures of their students and pay them starting salaries for teaching scripted lessons (since they are incapable of writing their own)/ to the questions that will appear on the designated NCLB Exam and there is little need to worry about tenure, since most will be gone before they will be eligible.

Luckily, some remain in the profession, but that number tends to hover around 30%. I should also point out, that while the districts are held to a specific test exam, Charters have the option of (though not with the CAHSEE, which all High Schools must take) using “A similar testing instrument” as their exam, i.e. all exams are not equal. Quite simply stated, you are not a Teacher until your fourth or fifth year and not many of these “Superior” Educators; arrive at this point of Wisdom. Moreover, yes, we need to be developing students who are on the road to wisdom and who will eventually become informed, adult, citizens.

Lastly, in the matter of Student Discipline, Charters like Private Institutions, have the ability to expel students if they are problematic in any way. Public Institutions may also do so, but due to our living in a litigious society, very few follow/uphold the existing State Standards of the Educational Code and Districts mandate that Administrators must attempt by any means to maintain a student’s enrollment and progress. With this in mind and if the majority of schools become Charters, no one cares to mention that there will a need for and the creation of Opportunity Schools, which in days past were referred to as Reform Schools. This is in my opinion one of the more interesting “dirty little secrets,” never spoken about.

There are far more issues that we all need to examine closely and perhaps Community Charters will be able to address, but the shiny new example of how we educate our children, is not it all appears to be. If at this moment, I had school age students and could not afford or agree with the educational philosophy of Private schools, I would be looking at expanding and improving the Magnet Programs and be a highly involved parent, making sure that the District (any District) is serving my child’s education to the fullest.

1 comment: said...

Thank you for a much needed and more comprehensive explanation for some of the issues regarding Charter schools. My daughter is in elementary school, and just as you suggest, we worked hard to get her into an excellent magnet school and we feel very fortunate she won the 'lottery' to get in. This is not a good system...

I agree with you that Charters are not a panacea for the problems at LAUSD, and their ability to match or outperform current schools remains to be seen - it still a young program. As a parent of a young child I am looking to the future and since San Pedro currently has far more kids than spaces at magnet schools, I do wish we had a charter option. I am still not certain where my daughter will go to middle school (and now we have split elementary graduation between 5 & 6, another mess) - she is bright, but who knows if she will get into a GATE track, often the best option, even in the lower-performing schools. The general feeling among the parents I've spoken with is that we must navigate (and try to manipulate) many narrow avenues among schools that are generally not up to par, and this is unfortunate.

If San Pedro High doesn't turn around in the next couple of years, then what? Not everyone can get into our local charter or magnet high schools, and if we siphon the best and brightest from SPH, this isn't a solution either.

Teachers have not done a good job helping parents to truly understand their options, and the system is fraught with political, social, and union-based pitfalls that parents find difficult to manage. This is one of the reasons (for better or worse) they have gotten involved in setting up Charters. I'm just not a fan of the union and my mother-in-law is a long-standing member. Change must come from all quarters, and until I see differently, parent pressure and organization will continue to be part of the equation.