Tales from the Trenches: As the Charter World Turns…

As the charter world turnsI have heard that some folks refer to those of us in the charter world as a daytime soap; more specifically,  “As the charter world turns” because we have so much drama. I find that very interesting as we don’t seek out the drama but rather we are treated as second-rate school by many, (cough, Dept of Cough, cough). 😉

Case in point, charter schools are expected to keep our finances in the black. If we run in the red we would be shut down. I think we could really come up with a nice list of traditional schools are able to stay open while well in the hole. They just go to the tax payers and ask for more money when they want to balance their budgets…running in statutory operation debt isn’t all that uncommon…

Charters are constantly under attack whether it be finances, test scores or governance.

If one bad thing happens in a charter school all of the sudden we are all thrown out with the bath water and labeled as bad. If one bad thing happens at a traditional school people say, oh, that is just one person who made poor choices at that school. The others are just fine…you know…, “My kids school is better than that…” we’ve all hear it..

We report to our school board just as a traditional school does, we report to the state dept just like the traditional school does AND we report to our authorizer. We have 3 entities keeping CLOSE tabs on us. We are mandated to test our kids just like all of the other schools, we exchange some funding for flexibility on our focus, calendar, etc., but overall, we have plenty of oversight. Despite all of these oversight we are still put in the corner time and time again.

How is it that concept of charters (which by the way were born here in MN) has gone from a school for piloting new and innovative teaching, learning and professional development practices has come to this??

Why is it that so much in education is NOT about kids but rather about politics, money and power? Charter schools are schools too. Charter schools are filled with kids just like other schools. When talking about students with disabilities I always refer to it as students with disability NOT disabled student because the student comes first. Maybe rather than calling us charter schools we should be called schools with charters. Would that put the focus back on the school and less on the piece that makes a different? Who knows. But for now, it makes me feel better.

To those in traditional schools- I don’t mean to attack you, I just would like others to know how it feels when some groups treat us as ‘less than.’ I am sure you endure many of the same hardships as we do. To those in charters- You are not alone. Keep pressing on. The students and families you serve desperately need you. Remember it’s about the kids.

And now I’ll temporarily step down from my soap box 😀

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If you are not with them, you must be against them…

Why are things so black and white? What happen to shades of gray and other beautiful colors? (Last I checked Crayola had plenty of colors to choose from. Just ask my daughter who has 2 overflowing crayon boxes.) In all seriousness, why is it that if you aren’t “for” something you are immediately lumped into the “against” category without thought to there being any other options? Think about it for a minute…Some of the most emotionally charged issues are portrayed in a black and white, stark contrast. Apparently there is no fence to sit on to find any common ground.

Where am I going with this? As much as I would like to share my thoughts on the many examples flying around in my head, I’ll try to stick to the one which spawned this post.

Ed Reform-Yeah, a word people tend to shy away from. By definition it means changing education for the better. This sounds like a good thing to me. We always want better for our children than we had. I thought that is how most generations work. There are some people who view ed reform as a bad thing not because they don’t want better for the next generation but because it insinuates that the current system is broken, wrong, or some other negative connotation. So from my desk it certainly seems if you are an ‘ed reformer’ you are saying the current system is broken, or wrong, you are against teachers….and if you are a ‘traditionalist’ you are pro-union, anti-charter, etc.

I have read plenty of articles, blogs, etc. It’s all the same you either are or aren’t there is no in between. I am here to say I will NOT be lumped into categories. I will blaze my own trail into my own category. I have been told I am a spit-fire, spark plug, get-it-done kind of person so I guess this fits my personality well. 🙂

I consider myself to be an ed reformer; however, I have my own thoughts, views, beliefs that I feel put me in a gray area. I don’t think the U.S. Public Education System is broken, just obsolete. I am not pointing figures or blaming people or positions. Just saying that we as a society have outgrown the current system (which I might add has been employed for hundreds of years). I don’t care for teacher unions but that doesn’t mean I think teachers are bad. I am one!! I would simply prefer to negotiate for my own salary based on my own merits and purchase any additional insurance on my own. While we are on that subject, just because I don’t care for teacher unions doesn’t mean that I believe in evaluating teachers based on student test scores. I think there are far better ways to evaluate teachers in a more collegial and professional manner. Yes, I am a charter school supporter; however, I must add if you have seen 1 charter school, you have seen 1 charter school. They are all different.
Ultimately, I think teachers are crucial

to a great education. I should add GREAT teachers are crucial to a great education. We all know there are bad teachers out there and yeah, they should find another calling. (It’s the same for all fields, who wants a bad plumber, lawyer, doctor, secretary???) In fact, I think teachers should have more voice in their schools and schools should have more autonomy. Students (and their families) should have more voice and choice in their educational journey. School should be fun. Yeah, I said it “Fun!” Learning should be a joyful process.  School should NOT be a place where kids ‘do their time’ to get it over with.

Whether you prefer traditional public school with bells and 7 period days or one that utilizes project based learning. A charter school with traditional classes and extended hours or one with multi-age classrooms and an individualized curriculum it really doens’t matter. It’s the choice that is important to me. (We have so many choices as to where to buy gas, shop for groceries, buy stamps, etc. why should education be any different?)

I think if we focus all of our efforts in education on the students and not the adults we would have a much better education system to offer future generations.