Some Thoughts on Charters From Superintendent Clark

A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch has prompted me to have some thoughts on School Choice in Ohio that may be of interest to our school community.

Here is a link to the article:

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/02/01/charters-struggle-to-beat-scores-of-big-traditional-urban-schools.html

My career in education mirrors the era of school choice in Ohio so I have had the opportunity to watch it unfold from the perspective of someone who has spent their life working to provide better and better educational opportunities for children.

I graduated from high school in 1983. You know, the very year A Nation at Risk  was published by our United States Department of Education. No matter one’s thoughts on the validity of that report, it has been the basis of “reform” in our schools ever since.

I, like most people, like the idea of choice. Autonomy is important to all of us humans no matter our age and if we can have choices we certainly want them. As a parent of two children, I like the idea that I have choice in where to send my children to school too. All of that sounds great. I wish it were that simple.

Here are some things I remember during my career:

  • We were told our public schools were failing and that literally, our nation was at risk.
  • We were and continue to be told our children were not being adequately served by the public school system.
  • We were told and are continuing to be told adequate resources were/are being invested, but the “edublob” (the term many education “reformers” derisively use for traditional public schools) was/is wasteful, not innovative and protect/ed bad teachers due to unionization.
  • We were told and continue to be told by “reformers” that by implementing school choice, through the opening and funding of charter schools, the marketplace would create innovation, produce great opportunities and results for children and families and be able to succeed with less of a public investment of resources.
  • In 1992, Governor Voinovich started the Commission of Educational Choice and put David Brennan in charge of the pilot program in Cleveland.
  • Since that time the charter school experiment has done nothing but expand in Ohio.

Now, here in Ohio, we are a quarter of a century into the implementation of this model that was going to save the day. Is the day saved? Do we see evidence of innovation due to charter schools? Do we see evidence of great educational opportunities and results for children and families? Do we see evidence that the charter experiment has solved the educational problems identified in A Nation at Risk? Do we see evidence that this was accomplished more efficiently or using fewer resources?

What I have seen/learned over this time is the following:

  • Educating human beings is complex hard work no matter the model employed to do that work.
  • Very little to no innovation with regard to teaching and learning has been created by the marketplace of charter schools.
  • Assessing children or anyone in a fair and equitable way is hard and the standardized tests we humans have developed are very poor at it to date.
  • Assessing the impact of teachers and schools on their students in a fair and equitable way is hard and the standardized tests we humans have developed are not very good at that either.
  • “Success” by the measures we have chosen to use at this time (test scores) is more attributable to “creaming” (the term used for when schools/communities use strategies to sort out students that demand greater resources to be academically successful) than better instruction.
  • The marketplace has some really bad actors who put profits ahead of children.
  • Politics and deciding who gets the money we spend on educating our kids is most often the driving force behind all “reform” no matter what side of the argument people take.

Here is what I believe today (this is subject to change of course):

  • Educators, no matter where they serve, should be examples of lifelong learners and continually improving their practice to serve students better.
  • The same goes for educational institutions no matter their “type.”
  • The issues facing us with regard to how kids do in school and in their broader life have much less to do with the schools (no matter the type) and much more to do with our society overall.
  • Schools and educators tend to reflect the society that produce them and replicate the social structures that are used to maintain status quo within the society.
  • Meaningful school reform (better results for all children and families) lies in the eradication of root causes, not the political fig leaf of symptom treatment. To do otherwise, as we have done and continue to do, will continue to produce similar results to the ones we have had and have no matter how many tests we have kids take or how much accountability we put on teachers and schools.
  • As an education leader, it is clear to me that our school must have adequate resources to invest in the educational opportunities our school provides, but if I am forced to choose between a dollar for our school or a dollar invested more directly in the overall physical and/or mental well-being of a child, I choose the latter over the former.
  • Some “reformers” are expressing that democratically elected school boards are the problem and propose appointed school boards as a solution. This idea is highly suspect.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Winston S. Churchill

Here in our community’s school, I continue to ask that all of us (students, staff, parents and community members) simply do our best each day on behalf of the children in our care. When we all do that, much of the other “stuff” addressed above will be diminished and our kids will have great opportunities to prepare them for the test that really matters to us all…being able to lead a fulfilled life.

 

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