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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Tales from the trenches: The testing debacle

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking....

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking….

It’s spring, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, (it is snowing in MN) this means testing season is upon us. If you work in schools or are a parent you probably are with me when I say I dread this time of year.

I have dealt with testing in the schools for years and may not enjoy it but have managed to survive it. This year at the elementary level it just seemed to be absolutely horrific.

It started with all online testing. The system was up, then down. They said stop testing, then start testing. Then emails came in stating to test if you aren’t experiencing any problems….We had students who were not able to pause their tests and therefore where clicking just to fill in the bubbles to get to the bottom of the screen to pause the test. We had trouble getting the system to pause for days. We called the help desk, repeatedly (and then some more). Some people who answered seemed to be very empathetic to our situation, others referred it as ‘glitches’ in the system.

Regardless, I want to know how in the world these tests results would be considered valid. We had kids crying and others  so frustrated with the starting, stopping, and issues trying to pause for breaks I just can’t imagine they were in a frame of mind to actually perform on the tests.

To that end, how can it be right to attach funding to tests that should at the very least be considered compromised due to the many MANY technical errors or ‘glitches’ as they called them???

I have witnessed our students tested on the state assessments, the NWEA MAP’s and now the DRA’s all within the last few weeks. Our poor students are tested too much. If only we could put our trust in the educators who already use diagnostic assessments like the NWEA”s and the DRA’s &  not mandate additional tests (which they don’t’ receive the results from for months….)

Students don’t learn anything from tests. They learn from passionate educators who know them and can help guide them through the learning process. I say, step out of the way and let teachers do what they do best-Teach!

 

The Walmart Complex Applied to Education

The other evening I was doing what I always do (three or more things all at once…) as I was doing this I had a bit of an ironic epiphany.

SO I was reading someones thoughts on education and how the U.S. educational system demands everyone hit every standards to a specified degree and concluded with the notion that everyone doesn’t need to be good at everything and rather it’s important that everyone have their own unique expertise/talent. While reading that I had the T.V. on and there seemed to be many commercials for for big box companies and a few tech commercials both of which triggered an ‘ah-ha’ for me.

I typically get irritated when stores get what I refer to as ‘the walmart compex’ which is when they try to be all things for all people, (i.e., selling everything from mayonnaise to men’s underwear to crown molding.) Seeing these advertisements giving that same message not only about their company but about people too really hit home.

As I sat there reflecting I began to question it all. Why is it that we shifted from mom-and-pop stores where companies did one thing and did it well to giant corporations that do everything (and we’ll, I’ll let you decide how well they do all that they do). Why is it that we have shifted from having an expertise or niche to trying to do it all and fooling ourselves into thinking we are good -no- great at all of it? Why is it that in education we have moved from starting with a general base of knowledge in primary school with a gradual shift to areas of interest in secondary school to that of everyone must know every single standard to the exact same level? (Yes, I do know the history of why the factory model of education actually came to fruition but just follow my rant…)

Can we really do it all and do all things that we do well? Studies have proven those who multi-task more are actually must worse at it than those who rarely do it. Is it the media telling us we can do it all? Is it the market telling us that is the way we can make the most money? Is it because we are willing to sacrifice expertise for convenience? (And is that a good direction to head?)

Regardless it’s something to ponder. And if you are anything like me you try hard to do it all and in some cases shove ‘ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack’ which if you do the math doens’t end well. Ultimately, something’s gotta give.

Do we want the future to be filled with people who are mediocre and lots of things or people who have been exposed to many different facets but have honed their skills on just a few things? Does the Walmart approach to education really work?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see….

College Ready vs. Ready for College

Recently I read a tweet about the release of the list of ‘best high schools’. I was curious about who made the list but knew it wasn’t going to be the schools I would ever want to send my own children to. I confess, I clicked on the link and read the list as far as the top 20 at which point I was irritated. What put them on this list? Who decides this anyway? Why in the world I click on an article when I know darn well it’s going to get under my skin is beyond me? I digress….Back to the list. It included items such as teacher/student ratio and the percentage of students who passed exams which fell under the ‘college ready’ category. Student/teacher ratio-I get that and can get behind it. The more staff you have the better you can personalize for each students individual needs. Offering AP classes, AP exams and other standardized tests?? Now that one I don’t care for. Should the best schools’ graduate students with a great academic foundation? – Yes! But let’s think about this for a minute…College Ready? Does filling in the correct bubble on a standardized test make you college ready? Is that how we really want to define college ready?

During a recent conference I heard a great quote that I agree with, “Student achievement is more than test scores. It’s what students DO with what they know.” With that in mind, are students ready for college just because a they score high enough on a test to be labeled college ready? I don’t think so.

To be ready for college students need to have a strong foundational knowledge but more importantly they need to be able to do something with that knowledge. They need to be able to communicate that knowledge to others. They need to be able to have the motivation to get out of bed and go to class. They need to have the resilience to overcome obstacles that may get in the way. They need to have the persistence to continue to strive to achieve their goals even after facing multiple obstacles. Okay, I am sure you get the point now.

I understand the concerns people have regarding incoming college students taking remedial courses. Is it really THAT bad? After all, they did get into the college and are attending. What about the students who are labeled college ready and attend college only to drop out? Is it better for students to have extra debt from those remedial courses which may require them to graduate in more than the typical 4 years or for them to have the debt from college courses that never resulted in a college degree?

My thoughts: It is better to be ready for college and learn some things on the fly than to be college ready only to end up not completing college. After all, the learning is in the doing.