Sunday, March 24, 2013
This post is directed mostly at the upper middle-class parents who seem to have made a second full time career out of finding a school for their 4 and 5 year-olds. This mad school search especially happens in big cities like my own Philadelphia as well as places like New York and Chicago. This is partially a function of parents wanting the best for their children (a perfectly understandable feeling), and largely a function of the reformers lie that "American education is failing".
As a teacher in a regular old public school and a parent whose two daughters were raised and educated in Philadelphia (the actual city, not the "surrounding area"), and who now are successfully ensconced in graduate school and undergraduate school, I can tell you this: your kids are going to be alright! Or, at least, the school you send them to is not going to make or break their educational careers nearly as much as what you, the parents, do (or do not do) at home! It is certainly not worth the hand-wringing, breast-beating, and outright keening I have seen when parents find out that their kid (for one reason or another) will not be attending their "first-choice" kindergarten. Your child's educational life is not ruined! The biggest indicator of a child's success in school is the socio-economic status of the parents.
So, all you parents who have read to their kids since before they were born, who take them on trips to the zoo, museums, apple-picking, plays, concerts, limit their exposure to inappropriate amounts of media, etc...., your kids are going to do just fine educationally no matter what school they attend! Of course, no parent wants a school in which their child is going to be abused or mis-treated or be miserable everyday--and a child with documented special needs requires a special school placement. But, barring those kinds of extraordinary circumstances, almost any school will be OK for a kid from a middle to upper middle-class family.
No school is perfect, not even a school that you pay many tens of thousands of dollars a year for. Each school my daughters attended had its good and bad points, and I would have changed things about each of them if I had been in charge of them. I spoke up when I needed to, adjusted course when I needed to, and overall I think both my daughters had good educational experiences in K-12.
They have good memories, some complaints (who doesn't?), had great social and emotional growth experiences, made good friends from many different backgrounds, and so far both have been very successful in their post-high school endeavors.
My point is this, do the best for your kids, but you and the income and experiences you provide for your children are much, much more important than the school they attend.
So worry more about raising good citizens of the city, commonwealth, nation, and world and less about finding the perfect school. When it come to choosing a school for your kid, calm the heck down!
Saturday, September 1, 2012
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Why would an obviously talented student like Xavier (he made the All City Orchestra, after all) be left behind under the SRC's new plan? Who wouldn't want a student who plays three instruments? Well, I'll tell you: no charter in this city would have accepted Xavier--they never would have had a chance to work with him and discover his talents. WHY? First of all, Xavier has a significant physical disability. Most charters in this city (and elsewhere) are not known for their eagerness to accept special-education students. Second, Xavier's guardian is an older, over-burdened family member who very rarely comes to meetings or even answers the phone! His basic needs are taken care of, but nothing truly over and above the basics gets done for him. Xavier's family loves him, but the work of bringing up a child as a senior citizen is hard. Charters are notorious for the hoops parents must jump through to even obtain an application, and Xavier's family simply would not expend the energy to get him in a special school. A charter operator was asked at an SRC meeting recently why the application for his school was not online--he flat-out admitted that his school wants to select "motivated families". Well, who wouldn't? The reality is that true public schools are supposed to educate ALL students, not just the ones with motivated families. Xavier was assigned to our public school because we had the capability to work with his particular disability--it was our duty to educate him no matter how difficult that task proved to be. Xavier could be a challenge in many ways, and--if our school had had a choice--there would have been times when we would have gladly "counseled him out" like many charters routinely do. Luckily, for him--and for us--it is not very easy for a regular public school to jettison a student. We were stuck with Xavier--and he with us--so our staff worked together to help him be successful. This required teachers, administrators, counselors, therapists, special education teachers, etc.... If our budgets are more severely cut to open additional charter schools, will we have the personnel to help the students who need it most, the students the charters (who will siphon off needed monies) will refuse to educate? I fear not. Because our school has an instrumental music program, and Xavier expressed interest, he was able to nurture his musical abilities to become the young man he is now: A performer who had a goal, was taught and encouraged by his music teacher, modified his behavior in required classes so he could attend music classes, and realized that goal. Xavier learned--in a regular North Philly public school--that he could be successful. Will our school be able to afford an instrumental music program next year? I am not a music teacher, but I appreciate the good our music program does for our students and our school. I appreciate what our school can do for a student like Xavier, and I appreciate what a student like Xavier can do for our school--we have helped each other grow and be better students, teachers, and people. Will the Xaviers of Philadelphia even get a chance under the SRC's plan? With management groups and charter operators in charge, will anyone take the time to nurture the difficult kids, the special education kids, the kids with overwhelmed or abusive families? Or will those kids truly become the "unwanted"--put together in under-funded schools without the resources to help them realize their potential? I truly hope not.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
This is the time of year when many charters in our area (and others) hold their annual lotteries to see which children will gain admission to their schools. Aside from the pure absurdity of students having to enter a lottery to get a place at a regular "public" school, there are other problems with these admissions lotteries at charter schools. Now if you want to register your child at a regular public school (in which you live in the catchment) in Philadelphia, you simply must provide the school with the child's birth certificate and immunization records, you also must provide proof of parentage and address. If charter schools are "public' schools, why is anything else required? Before most charters even get to the selection lottery, they have a myriad of ways they require parents to prove to be extremely motivated. Every teacher, principal, and school would dearly love to select students whose parents are motivated to help their child in every way they can---but the mission of PUBLIC education is to serve ALL children, not just those who are lucky enough to be born to motivated parents. Therefore, it creates an extremely un-level playing field to allow schools using public money and claiming they are true "public" schools to select only really motivated families to enter their admission lotteries. Here are some of the subtle ways that charters make sure the families that are eligible for the lottery are motivated to help their children succeed:
***Families must pick up and hand deliver the application: one of the most sought after charters in Philadelphia requires applications to be "dropped-off" at certain days and times. All of these times are from 4:00-6:00 PM. That certainly excludes anyone who works a 3-11 type shift. A parent on a local list-serv also reported that the "drop-off" took AN HOUR of her time! This does not sound like 'dropping-off' to me--an hour seems more like an interview or at least an opportunity to size up parent and child. This obviously excludes parents that do not have time (because of work or family commitments) to spend an hour or more simply trying to get a chance to enter an admission lottery.
***Parents/guardians must attend an open house or information meeting to get an application: Another charter (that does a good job) requires parents and prospective students to attend an open house. Once you attend the open house, you get an appointment for a during-the-day interview (during which you fill out the application). This process requires a parent to be motivated and able to have a flexible schedule in order to get a spot in this school.
***Some charter school applications have "voluntary" essay questions that ask a family to describe their educational philosophy or explain why they want to attend the school. Are these essays truly voluntary, or are they a way to weed out less motivated or articulate families? Since there is little or no transparency in charter school lotteries, no one really knows.
***Strict application and paperwork deadlines: Applications are due by a certain date and paperwork once a child is accepted is strictly due by an enrollment date. This seems simple enough, but regular public schools cannot require this. These rules eliminate the disorganized and chaotic families which try the patience of regular public schools but whose children are still entitled to an education.
These are all steps that must be taken BEFORE an application is even put in the charter lottery. What I am always curious about is this: How does the public know that ALL applications that are received are even entered into the lottery? How can we be sure that staff at charters are not going through applications and weeding out "less desirable" candidates? Charters say they enter everyone, but the truth is there is no way to really know this. If these are public schools, perhaps the lotteries should be standardized and run by an independent third-party--then we could be sure they are above board. However, that still would not address the issue that charters are not held to the same standard that public schools have long been held to: Educating ALL students no matter who their parents are or how motivated they are. It is patently unfair to compare charter results with the results of schools that have no choice of which students they educate.
Monday, February 27, 2012
The reality of it is that, this situation--and others that are equally tragic-- are occurring every day all over this city and country and have a dire impact on kids' attendance and achievement in school. How important does 8th grade seem when your brother is dead? How important is first grade when you are hungry and cold at home? How important is finishing high school when your Mom has lost her job? We have dedicated and caring teachers and counselors in every school, but the reality is that no matter how hard they work, no matter how much of their own money, time, tears, and soul they pour into their work every day--they can NEVER make every child's life the way it OUGHT to be. There ARE people whose job it is to do that, but--for whatever reason--they choose not to. Teachers try every day to make school the way it ought to be, to make it a refuge for every child, and I think we largely succeed. We are not making excuses, we are holding back the flood of societal ills, and we cannot do it by ourselves. We need the no excuses crowd to step up and change the lives of children OUTSIDE of school, maybe then all kids can come to school ready and excited to learn.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
When the SRC’s Facilities Master Plan was unveiled last week, there was some surprise, some relief, and some criticism. Many media outlets wondered why so few schools were being closed when there are 70,000 empty seats district-wide. But, let’s take a closer look at the alleged 70,000 seats sitting empty in our public schools. Do this many empty seats truly exist? Many of us who work in buildings with ‘empty seats’ contend that this number is vastly inflated. Kristen Graham, of The Inquirer, recently reported that 10,000 of those empty seats are in ALREADY closed buildings. SO, why include them in the total? Those seats are already out of circulation. Some parent advocates and educators point out that the number of alleged empty seats seems to keep rising rather quickly.
Although the authors of the facilities master plan insist they counted accurately, I can think of several reasons why they might not have: Special Ed Rooms, Science Labs, Computer/Writing Labs. For example, my school (like many others) has a variety of Special Education classrooms. These rooms are for Life Skills Support, Autistic Support, and Multi-Disabilities students and have a legal cap on the amount of students assigned to them. That legal cap is far less than the 20-33 students a regular education classroom can hold—in some special education classes only 6 students may be in the class. If the people tallying up empty seats mistakenly count the rooms used for special ed classes as being able to hold 33 students, they have vastly over-counted “empty’ seats. In our school, we were lucky enough recently to be able to turn two rooms into a science lab. Although that lab can serve all 400 and some kids in the school, those two rooms can no longer be counted as classrooms that can hold 66 more students than we already have. The same holds for the computer and writing labs that some schools have. Most people believe that the Ohio firm hired to tally the empty seats never went through buildings to see actual use. I do not believe they had an accurate picture of how space is utilized in our buildings. They simply used old data to count classrooms, multiplied by students, then took 75% of that number, and came up with a number of “empty seats”.
The ways space is utilized in schools in the twenty-first century is necessarily different that the way space way used when many of these buildings were constructed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. To give our kids the “Twenty-first Century Education” all the edu-crats keep talking about, space is needed for more than just classrooms crammed to the gills with 33 students apiece (just ask some of the over-crowded Northeast schools). Students need libraries, other research spaces, meeting spaces, and laboratories. If we are going to close schools based on some theoretical number of “empty seats”, the powers-that-be should at least do the hard work of walking through every single building to see how space is actually utilized every day.