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 😀


The Spinning wheels of educational change….

We’ve all been there. Proudly riding your big-kid bike. OK, so it’s got training wheels. Excited for your new freedom pedaling your little heart out only to find yourself not gaining ground. If you grew up on a gravel road like I did where there was plenty of pot holes and washboards to suspend my back tire and thwart my efforts to  ride up and down the driveway you know exactly what I am talking about.

The feeling of trying hard and not getting anywhere hasn’t gone away. I still see it and get just as frustrated as I did as a child. Ironically, the spinning tires aren’t always an accident.

It seems there are many educators, schools, district, etc., who say they want innovation & change. Yes, they have no problem saying how much they desire for this innovation and change but when it comes down to it, they have little to no intentions of actually doing it.

Putting ideas on paper and planning for the implementation is pretty easy. When it comes to actually DOING those things is when it gets tough and that my friend is when people back off from their plans and make as little change as possible. For whatever reason, the big plans for an extreme school make-over become more of a fresh coat of new paint. In fact, if you are lucky it is different color of paint.

“Doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results, is the definition of crazy.” I love this quote and find myself hearing it more and more in conversations regarding education. Continuing to use the same curriculum, instructional methods, school facility, etc., expecting to improve student outcomes is ridiculous yet that seems to be exactly what happens time and time again. Taking the traditional method of teaching (direct instruction, desks in rows, teacher dissemination of knowledge, etc.) and wrapping it in a different box with a pretty bow doesn’t  make it new and innovative.

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”

We have to learn to avoid those potholes and as scary as it might be eventually we have to take off the training wheels and travel the road ahead.

You’ll never know if you can ride without training wheels unless you try.

Enjoy the ride 🙂