Monday, August 08, 2016

Smoke, Mirrors, and Charter Schools

I'm not the first to say this, and I'm sure I won't be the last, but Moskowitz sells snake oil and charters are a scam. They have no more credibility than the guys playing three-card monte on the corner. They show you how easy it is to find the red card, and it's obvious to you and anyone who's looking. Then, after you fill in the applications, agree to whatever extra things are demanded, show up to Albany when Eva says you need to, and dance as fast as you're told, your kid gets thrown out of school.

It's pretty simple, actually. Once Moskowitz gets rid of your inconvenient child, there's no replacement. Since your kid is dragging down scores, demanding attention when there's test prep to be done, or has special needs other than getting high test scores, there's an extra name on the got to go list. And once that happens, your kid is bound for one of those awful public schools. Those schools are so bad that they take everyone and throw almost no one out!

By status quo standards, a good school is a school with high test scores. Charters are designed specifically to become "good schools," and if indeed that is the standard, it's not that hard to reach. All you have to do is stock your school with kids who get high scores. One way is to make sure that every single student has proactive parents. By proactive, I mean the kind of parent who will bother to fill out an application. That in itself is an extra step, weeding out those who won't even bother with such a thing.

The students I teach will not end up in charters. That's because they don't speak English at all. Their parents are unlikely to seek out charters and I'd be surprised if even one beginning ELL were in a Moskowitz Academy. Then there are those will special needs. By charter standards an IEP is an IEP, but special needs students are an extremely broad category. Some need a little extra time to take tests while others are certain never to graduate. Guess how many of the latter are in Moskowitz Academies. My school takes them all.

So where do the castoff Moskowitz kids end up? In public schools of course, where they continue to get the same test grades they did in Moskwitz Academies. And the papers look at their grades and say, "Oh my gosh, those public schools suck and need to be closed. We need new Moskowitz Academies right away!"

In fact, Moskowitz herself can then place a column in the paper stating that the test score rises, which are meaningless to begin with, are significant only in the charter sector. Lots of people will read that uncritically and believe it. But charters are not a silver bullet. They are an outright fraud, designed to undermine public schools and remove those inconvenient unions, with their blah, blah, blah, we want to get paid if we work.

In Moskowitz land, teachers are nothing if not replaceable, and those who last a few years can become principals and more. Now me, I wouldn't want to work in a place where we let kids pee their pants rather than visit a bathroom, just for the sake of test prep. I'd also argue that, while we are subject to ridiculous rules that preclude us from grading papers from our own schools, Moskowitz Academies need not follow these rules. In a culture where testing is more important than basic human biological needs, it's entirely conceivable that grading may be something less than objective.

But the charters have got a lot of wealthy supporters who toss out suitcases of cash as you or I might toss away a Kleenex. They've got Andrew Cuomo and Barack Obama in their hip pockets. They've got an entire chain of reformy websites called Chalkbeat that write features every time Eva, Families for Excellent Schools, or EFE sneezes. (Even today Chalkbeat is recycling the same old quote from the state on how the test scores are valid, while their Rise and Shine newsletter features a whole bunch of stories suggesting charter schools outperform public schools.) They've got an entire chain of Gates/ Walmart think tanks that provide appropriate quotes for journalists everywhere.

Now it's great that NAACP has finally gotten hip to this nonsense. But UFT and AFT still support them, blind to the fact that what may have been a benign notion from Albert Shanker is now a full-fledged Frankenstein monster wreaking havoc on our educational village. There was barely a peep at the AFT convention when Hillary Clinton suggested we could learn from public charter schools, whatever the hell they may be.

What can we learn? To exclude the neediest children we serve? To let children pee their pants rather than visit bathrooms? To toss children out on their asses if they don't get scores that make us look better than they are? To juke the stats and cheat? That the ends justify the means?

That's not what I want to learn, and it's certainly not a lesson I wish to teach children I serve. Personally, I'd like to teach union leadership exactly what it is we support when we support charter schools.
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