The Charter School Mess

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I met an old neighbor today and in talking politely she informed me that she was tutoring students in the Philadelphia school district in reading comprehension. When pressed for details on what her students were reading, she said, "Nothing. They can't read. These are fourth graders who have no reading skills."

 

How does this happen, I asked? How does a student get to fourth grade with no reading comprehension, no writing skills, and why will they be pushed into fifth grade? The reason is simple, she said. No one wants to deal with these kids. There are no programs to put them in. Some are obviously learning disabled, but there are no resources available. I suggested that perhaps we should start some programs where kids like this are removed from the academic environment and given something more productive and enjoyable to do, such as learn how to paint properly, or clean, maybe start with learning how to read the labels on containers, rather than books.

 

Our entire learning system is corrupt. The idea of no-child-left-behind has done exactly the opposite, leaving more and more children behind as children unsuitable for the level they're at sit in classrooms and either stare at the walls, in the best of circumstances, or create disruptions. My ex taught in a city school with 40 students in each class, trying to corral them to teach match to eighth graders with the math skills of first graders, along with a few at the proper level. When the end of the term came, she was told to push all but the worst along, and they got pushed along too. No one wants twenty-five-year-old eighth graders still doing math at a first grade level asking classmates on dates, or more appropriately, teachers.

 

The charter school system has only made this terrible situation worse. Charter schools are able to cherry pick the best students and at this time of year they are able to expel students who aren't achieving and send them back into the public system. But they don't have to return any of the money they've received for the entire year of education. That's what I was told, meaning even fewer resources and even more behind students.

 

If you want to understand why the US has gone from being one the best educational systems in the world to one of the worst in the industrialized world, all you have to look at is how we treat the students who want to learn at schools where so many students are incapable of learning. Not to talk about the differences in assets spent per student. In Philadelphia it's around $4500/student, compared with $17,000 for a wealthy suburban district. But the money difference is not the main culprit in my opinion. The biggest culprit is that we don't have good alternatives in education for kids incapable of learning academics other than having them sit silently between recesses and lunch.     

Comments

mark henry smith Added Feb 12, 2018 - 3:55pm
Maybe the Waldorf School model done in an urban environment with few resources, maintenance, trash pick up, singing, dancing, things that require few tools, but allow for a sense of accomplishment. Maybe boot camp style. 
Tamara Wilhite Added Feb 12, 2018 - 4:02pm
Money is not correlated to success with kids. Otherwise Washington DC spending 3 times what Utah does would be graduating geniuses, not a large number of functional illiterates.
mark henry smith Added Feb 12, 2018 - 4:12pm
So what do you see as the main cause, Tamara?
 
That these kids are immersed in a culture of passive entertainment? That academic learning is not promoted? What about boot camp for kids in school? Whoa, now I just started down the rabbit hole on this. Let's hear thoughts.
opher goodwin Added Feb 13, 2018 - 7:23am
As a former Headteacher I can categorically say that all children are capable of learning. But when you have such chaotic home backgrounds, such dangerous environments run by gangs, full of drugs and guns, and a background of racism and zero expectations then you are on to a loser. Before you can deal with the education properly you need to deal with the social problems that generate the problem.
Certainly the Private School System in the UK is detrimental. They take the brightest kids with aspirations and remove a whole section of kids who provide the aspiration and enthusiasm to the others. That does not help.
Every child deserves a first class education. The future of the country depends on that. To have an illiterate, ignorant, undereducated population is an indictment of the way the country operates.
No kid left my school unable to read or write or without qualifications - even the most disadvantaged and disabled. It can be done.
Bill Kamps Added Feb 13, 2018 - 11:22am
So what do you see as the main cause?
 
The people running the school system are gaming the system so they get their bonuses.   They get evaluated based on the standardized test scores, so if they  teach anything they teach the test.  There are a lot of state tests, so there barely is time for much else.  Then there has been many cases where admins have "fixed" test scores so the scores are higher.  Every school system is adept at proving how the students are doing better, because this how  they as admins are evaluated.  Gaming the  system, is easier than teaching students.
 
opher is correct, in many places the home life hurts progress at school.  But even where there are no home life problems, the schools barely are teaching. 
 
Everyone has an agenda in the schools, the Feds, the state, the teachers union, and the admins.  None of the agendas are correlated with students actually learning, they are correlated with the appearance of students learning.  It is not the same.  When you put systems in place to measure how much students learn, these systems take over the school, and become the end in themselves instead of a tool to guide the running of the school. 
 
Private schools are run much differently, so parents with any money, put  their kids in private schools, because they actually teach things to students. 
 
 
mark henry smith Added Feb 13, 2018 - 2:17pm
Per usual I wrote the piece and then researched based on what Tamara had said about DC and Utah.
 
Thank you all for your comments. Having had a mother and an ex in the teaching profession I have to tell you that they took their responsibilities very seriously and never would have been cajoled into gaming the system.
 
Tamara, your example was right on. The income level in both places is so drastically different that it's comparing apples and oranges and the sociological backgrounds are also at the extremes. The test scores appear to show money per student is a poor way to determine outcomes.
 
Opher, I agree that every student can learn, but the question needs to be asked, what should they be learning? Bill is correct that this test obsessed system does a disservice to the kids. I believe the reason it was initiated wasn't for kids at all, but to make it easier to assess teachers and districts.
 
My facts were wrong. The Philadelphia School District spends an average of $12, 500+ per student. The number I cited was an estimate of how much goes to children and isn't swallowed up by administrative and other costs that have nothing to do with education. Good teachers are vital and my ex was amazed at the way some teachers were able to get classes she couldn't control to behave instantaneously. Of course she was teaching in a predominantly black school and the white teachers had a harder time earning the respect of the students.
 
I believe community is vital to good education and that we've lost the input of community in how schools operate, but as a woman said to me yesterday, if kids are hungry, if kids don't have a quiet place to read, if kids aren't in a stable environment, if kids have health problems, if kids don't have parents or mentors who value education, nothing the school does will make any profound, long-term difference.
 
And kids who have no aptitude for traditional academics need to be offered alternatives. Private schools might have to be set up to teach some kids away from the test criteria that has become the model. How long can schools keep kids behind? My ex said that two-years is he limit.
 
Are the same tests that are used in public schools also required in private schools? And how are those results verified?           
opher goodwin Added Feb 13, 2018 - 2:25pm
Mark - I agree - testing should only be diagnostic - not something to make students jump through hoops over. 
I believe community is vital to good education and that we've lost the input of community in how schools operate, but as a woman said to me yesterday, if kids are hungry, if kids don't have a quiet place to read, if kids aren't in a stable environment, if kids have health problems, if kids don't have parents or mentors who value education, nothing the school does will make any profound, long-term difference.
And I would add to that if they are afraid, angry, tired or bullied then you have to sort those problems out first before they can learn.
mark henry smith Added Feb 14, 2018 - 1:09pm
Very true Opher, the environment creates the conditions in which learning happens and the man at the top right now is an example of the absolute principles in terms of etiquette and restrained consideration. 
A. Jones Added Feb 15, 2018 - 2:42am
I suggested that perhaps we should start some programs where kids like this are removed from the academic environment and given something more productive and enjoyable to do, such as learn how to paint properly, or clean, maybe start with learning how to read the labels on containers, rather than books.
 
So your belief is that if we teach 15 year olds who currently read at a 4th grade level to paint "properly", or clean, or practice reading labels on containers, then the U.S. public education system will jump from being one of the last in the world to being one of the first in the world. Got it. It's a weird idea. But I got it.
 
The charter school system has only made this terrible situation worse. Charter schools are able to cherry pick the best students and at this time of year they are able to expel students who aren't achieving and send them back into the public system. But they don't have to return any of the money they've received for the entire year of education. That's what I was told, meaning even fewer resources and even more behind students.
 
Why would you believe (and then post) what you were told rather than do at least a little bit of research? 
 
https://www.philasd.org/charterschools/history/
 
"The Pennsylvania Charter School Law was enacted in 1997 to allow local boards of education to establish new charter schools.
 
In many ways, charter schools are like district-operated schools:

They are public, tuition-free schools.
They offer instruction in all core courses, aligned to state requirements.
They must enroll and support all students, including those with special needs and limited English proficiency.

But charter schools do not have to follow certain district policies, including:

Design of their academic programs
Length of school day and school year (however must meet state requirements)
Selection of textbooks, curriculum, and other materials
Hiring of teachers and staff
Discipline expectations for students
Extracurricular programs

Just like district-operated schools, charter schools must be accessible to all students within their district, comply with applicable federal and state statutes, and most importantly produce academic results for their students. Each charter school must also fulfill the terms of its original charter application and its charter agreement."
 
Seems you were given incorrect information.
 
mark henry smith Added Feb 15, 2018 - 12:29pm
Thanks for that info, A Jones,
It's not the eighth grader who reads at a fourth grade level that I'm talking about, with instruction those kids can improve, it's kids who are in eighth grade and can't read at a first grade level. What do we do with these kids? What are they coming to school for? What is the purpose of school? If it's just academics, creating test-taking automatons, I believe we're failing the mission. Values of good citizenship and responsible behavior, a work ethic at any level should be integrated into the lesson plan. 
 
And one of the main complaints about charter schools is that are allowed to select which kids get in, since they do not have open enrollment. They can limit their numbers. They can remove kids who prove problematic. They are not bound by the rules to serve all who want to attend.
 
My ex taught at a charter school. It was horribly mismanaged and the way goals were achieved was by cheating. It ended up being shut down and those students had to be taken back into the public schools, but the money for their education wasn't refunded. That was the point of the woman I talked to. That the money for children is paid upfront for charter schools, but is not refunded if the child is removed.
 
I'll check that though when I have my google. 

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