Well, this is going to be one HOT jalapeno blog!
My husband asked me this morning if I felt conflicted about the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, we had quite an exchange of thoughts. I have worked as a teacher in a charter school in Baltimore City for about 7 years. I had taught for 1 year at a different charter school prior to that and for 6 months I worked in a regular public school. Prior to becoming a teacher I worked for the Even Start in Montgomery County for about 2 years.
Current “Maryland law provides that a charter school’s teachers remain covered by the school district collective bargaining agreement, although a charter school and a local teachers’ union may mutually agree to negotiate amendments to the existing agreement to address the needs of the particular public charter school, including amendments to work days, work hours, school year, procedures for transfers that are consistent with the instructional mission of the school and extra duty assignments.” Click MD charter law for more information.
My teaching experience mostly revolves around charter schools, but I am aware how the general public school system works. In fact, my son attends our local elementary school in the county. Both my husband and I chose to buy our home in our neighborhood mainly because we had heard many great things about this school, and a co-worker had completed her internship there and had great things to say about the school.
My husband worked as a teacher in high school in the city for about 1.5 years before falling ill and having to quite his job in order to receive proper medical care. His school ended up closing a year after he left due to low enrollment numbers. He believes that having choice schools causes uneven and unfair funding practices because top schools can select the “cream of the crop” and students who are unable to make these top schools end up going to high schools, like the his. Students are not academically ready for high school this causes students to drop out of high school and/or perform low as a school, and eventually this leads to low enrollment numbers and schools close. In his own words, “low performing schools are asked to perform at the same level as top schools with less funding, which means less qualified teachers, fewer choices and support systems for students.”
I on the other hand, I disagree to a certain extent. Having choices is a good thing. I wish I had the choice to choose where my son could attend school. His elementary school is a good school but I don’t always see that he is getting challenged enough, he is in Kindergarten but he reads at a 1st grade level and is in a similar situation with his math skills. My only two choices is to keep him in this public neighborhood school and hope things pick up or pay for private school. We can’ afford private schooling, so that choice is out. I spoke to my son’s principal to find out what other opportunities are available for my son, after an hour on the phone, I realized there are none. No choices. Not because the principal or the teacher don’t want to help my son grow, but because our school system in the county doesn’t have any choices for schooling. Children must attend their neighborhood public school unless they apply and are accepted to a gifted and talented program, which only starts after 2nd grade. As a mom, there is nothing more frustrating than knowing that your child can do so much more but his needs are not being met simply because he is too far ahead but not ahead enough.
This can happen in any school, whether it is charter or public, but the thing is that choice schools do give families the power to find what they believe is best for their families. A dear friend of mine recently entered his kids names into the lottery to a public Montessori school in Frederick. They were accepted, and my friends tells me his children are happy learning and being met according to their needs. I wish my son had the same opportunity, or at least the chance to attend a public Montessori school. Or a project based learning school. Or a STEM school. I just wish we had choices.
I think that specially in urban areas, where the needs are so great, school choice does empower families to choose and advocate for their children. I do believe that there needs to be more accountability for charter operators, specially when it comes down to the way they spend their money and how the allocate and raise funds.
Although Betsy DeVos is a great supporter of charter and choices school, and she plans to build her work around this topic; I believe she has absolutely no idea of what really goes on in the classrooms or the needs that educators have in order to better serve their students. I really wonder whether or not she will truly be able to lead the education department when she has never experienced the challenges and heartaches that we, as educators, experience every day. I am tired of having people who have no experience in the classroom passing judgement and making decision that affect me and my students. I like to compare this phenomena to single people who judge and give “advice” to parents on how to parent a child who is having a meltdown.
I guess I will have to wait and see.