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How Good Are Charter Schools For the Public School System? 715

theodp writes "'You go to these charters,' gushed Bill Gates in 2010, 'and you sit and talk to these kids about how engaged they are with adults and how much they read and what they think about and how they do projects together.' Four years later, Gates is tapping his Foundation to bring charter schools to Washington State, doling out grants that included $4.25 million for HP CEO Meg Whitman's Summit Public Schools. So what's not to like? Plenty, according to Salon's The Truth About Charter Schools, in which Jeff Bryant delves into the dark side of the charter movement, including allegations of abuse, corruption, lousy instruction, and worse results. Also troubling Bryant is that the children of the charter world's biggest cheerleaders seem never to attend these schools ('A family like mine should not use up the inner-city capacity of these great schools,' was Bill Gates' excuse). Bryant also cites Rethinking Schools' Stan Karp, who argues that Charter Schools Are Undermining the Future of Public Education, functioning more like deregulated 'enterprise zones' than models of reform, providing subsidized spaces for a few at the expense of the many. 'Our country has already had more than enough experience with separate and unequal school systems,' Karp writes. 'The counterfeit claim that charter privatization is part of a new 'civil rights movement', addressing the deep and historic inequality that surrounds our schools, is belied by the real impact of rapid charter growth in cities across the country. At the level of state and federal education policy, charters are providing a reform cover for eroding the public school system and an investment opportunity for those who see education as a business rather than a fundamental institution of democratic civic life. It's time to put the brakes on charter expansion and refocus public policy on providing excellent public schools for all.'"
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How Good Are Charter Schools For the Public School System?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:42AM (#45939033)

    the location/setting is is everywhere already

  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:51AM (#45939113) Homepage Journal

    Also never seem to attend public schools. Usually these cheerleaders are wealthy, and wealthy families tend to use private schools.

    And exactly what is wrong with people that can afford to help their children get a better education doing so? Should not every parent try to provide the best life skills and education for their offspring that they are able to provide?

    Are you advocating that people who have these means...sacrifice the lives of their children, send them for a poor education merely to prove a social "point"?

  • by meustrus ( 1588597 ) <meustrus @ g m a i l . com> on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:32AM (#45939609)
    The more I learn about charter schools, the more it seems that they obviously are not supposed to be a permanent solution. The institution itself is seems explicitly designed to produce a scattershot of ideas and methods, some of which might fail spectacularly, and some of which might succeed spectacularly. While it is troubling that we as a society are learning which ideas work at the expense of our children, that doesn't mean we should just throw away what we've learned. I'm not talking about whether or not to keep charter schools around. I'm talking about taking some of the more successful methods and implementing them in our public schools. It concerns me that every time I hear about how awful charter schools are supposed to be, the speaker acts as though the best solution would be to nuke them and pretend the whole experiment never happened.
  • by ebno-10db ( 1459097 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:33AM (#45939619)

    As a fellow NY'er, whose kids are fortunate enough to attend decent schools, I'd watch that "flyover country" term. IIRC Colorado and some of the northern Midwest (not an exhaustive list) have good schools. OTOH San Diego public schools suck.

    Overall though your point is well taken. Saying that public schools in America suck is a gross generalization. When it comes to those international tests where everyone bemoans America's poor ranking, there are large areas (e.g. Mass.) where the students rank up there with those other countries we're supposed to emulate. Tell the geniuses who want to improve America's public schools that they don't have to look beyond the borders - just look at the parts of America that have decent schools.

  • by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:47AM (#45939827) Homepage Journal

    I've seen it from close up.

    Ghetto black people and white trash are surprisingly similar. We've seen a migration from the inner cities to low income suburbia of people with that mindset.

    The biggest difference is that the white trash celebrate when someone makes it out of the cycle of poverty.

    Comedians make jokes about it and I've seen it with my own eyes. Guys get more love and admiration when they get out of prison than they do for finishing college.

    People throw parties when their friends and relatives get out of prison and don't care when their friends and relatives further their educations.

    The day I graduated with my M.S., I went out to celebrate with a beer. I wore my cap and robe to the bar. I got a bunch of strange looks, like seeing someone who graduated from college was unimaginable. One man, apparently a thug, came up to me and asked what degree I had just gotten. I told him that I just got a Master of Science in Information Security and Assurance. He grabbed me, embraced me, told me he was proud and that we needed more educated men in our community.

    It's still an uphill battle but it's not yet a lost cause.


  • Re:Test scores (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ranton ( 36917 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:54AM (#45939899)

    You would figure most people on Slashdot would have a good enough understanding of math and statistics to know that just because testing scores may not be perfect, there are plenty of practices that can make them very useful.

    We can do pre-tests and post-tests so teachers aren't penalized for having students that were already poor performers. A teacher could be rated as outstanding even if his students are testing under the standards as long as their improvement was above expectations. The government has access to enough information to adjust test scores based on socio-economic factors. If 75% of a teacher's students are on food stamps, and the data shows students on food stamps generally underperform, then the performance metrics can take that into account.

    The statistics world already has wonderful tools like standard deviations to determine if results are either expected deviations or are actually meaningful. And while the simple ones taught in STAT 101 aren't good enough for most uses, there are far better techniques that governments could pay very qualified statistics Phds to perform on teacher metrics.

    And even though these metrics will still not be perfect, does that stop the private world from trying to rate employee performance? Sometimes a person is put on a doomed project and it is too hard to determine if they did a great job while everyone around them failed. But when people actually care about performance they understand that sometimes life can be unfair and that should not be an excuse for a shoddy product.

    And our schools are certainly a shoddy product as they stand today.

  • Re:Test scores (Score:1, Interesting)

    by YumoolaJohn ( 3478173 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @12:29PM (#45940327)

    I can still recite the multiplication tables up to 12 with no real thought.

    That might not have been a waste of time for you, but it was for me. Memorize such nonsense on your own time.

    Rote has its place.

    In mindless subjects. The example you gave was a poor one.

    That is a bullshit phrase that has no proof at all.

    That is a bullshit sentence with no proof at all.

    I doubt anyone who actually understands math [] and other subjects even a little bit can honestly say that people are receiving good educations. There are vital things that are being left out, and one of those things is the 'why.'

  • Re: Test scores (Score:3, Interesting)

    by saider ( 177166 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @01:38PM (#45941079)

    Then teach them how to write or modify their own games or bake their own pizza. Use a game engine and have them mess around with the physics model. Have them learn some game design/simulation concepts. Learn the chemistry of baking and maybe some small business skills. Put them in the kitchen and see if they can cook better food than the staff.

    There is plenty of opportunity to teach "lazy gamers". Almost all of them want to change something about their favorite game, but our system just tells them to recite the Pythagorean Theorem. No wonder they want to drop out and play video games.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @01:51PM (#45941285)

    I'm saying the choice shouldn't exist, and the appropriate level of resources plus those otherwise spent on the choice should be put into the broken system to fix it.

    Having charter schools is like giving parents access to "private school lite" in that their kids will get some, but not all, advantages that the kids who go to elite private schools get. The problem is that not everyone benefits. Only the most vocal and caring parents who push for their kids to be taken out of the bad public schools will get the advantage. The parents who don't care, aren't around or have their own problems keep their kids in the public school, and things get worse as a result.

    In my mind, the real answer is to correct the problems in the existing system rather than trying to build a parallel one around it. Fixes would be extremely controversial and wouldn't work until things got intolerable:
    - Pay all teachers in all districts well. Make it a lucrative profession -- there are too many places that pay teachers less than flight attendants (and starting FA salaries are insanely low.)
    - Introduce more rigid tracks into schools -- academic track, vocational track, sports training track, warehouse track. Basically, do the most good for the most people and realize that not everyone will achieve at the same level. (Of course, society would need to provide jobs for everyone at all levels, which is a way bigger problem.)
    - Put enough money into poor districts to bring them up to the same standards as better ones. Yes, that's a lot of money and represents a huge transfer of wealth. No, it's not palatable in the current climate. Just spending double on the students isn't enough, you need to take inflation into account.

    So yes, I think that if the situation were bad enough and there were no alternatives, adding more money would fix the problem. With the alternatives, you give enough people the option to say "Oh, that's not my problem anymore."

    People in my school district complain bitterly about taxes, but their kids get a good education out of the deal. I think a lot of them don't realize that many other parts of the country charge a pittance in taxes per year and return a predictable result in school achievement. I also think a lot of people are bitter about the "evil teachers' unions" just because their private sector employment has been taking away wages and benefits for decades almost unchallenged. One real world example of the disconnect -- my old job wanted me to relocate to Florida a while back. Even the real estate agents showing us around said we would need to factor in the cost of a private school to get a comparable level of school quality.

    I also think things will have to get really bad before anything changes. Look at the political will and control China has -- they realize their economy is out of balance and too reliant on exports. Their solution? Manufacture a domestic consumer economy by picking up people and physically moving them to cities. They're moving hundreds of millions of people to cities over the next decade, because subsistence farming peasants don't buy stuff, but city dwellers do. I think you can safely assume that nothing like that would happen here. But, it has the potential to instantly fix that problem.

  • Re:Test scores (Score:4, Interesting)

    by west ( 39918 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @01:54PM (#45941349)

    > I have found that what makes a good school here in a California school district is the PRINCIPAL

    I'll second that sentiment.

    My son's primary school had a bullying problem bad enough that it made the papers. The principal retired and a new principal brought in. Within a two years, it was a different school, and within three, she was getting the pick of teachers across Toronto any time there was a vacancy because teachers were desperate to work with a principal that was active, knew every student's name and personality, and most importantly of all, supported the teachers when parents were being difficult.

    It took an amazing amount of work on her part, but she *made* the school. (The excellent teachers made the classrooms.) Watching her stand-down parents who wanted to make excuses for their child's bullying was eye-opening.

    I was stunned when the grade 6 graduation speech by the students praised her specifically and at length for making them feel safe. When I went through primary school, the only students who even knew the principal's name were the troublemakers...

  • by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @03:27PM (#45942821) Homepage Journal

    I've been called an Uncle Tom. I've been accused of harboring self hatred. I've been accused of "trying to be white" and thinking that I am white.

    These accusations are hurled either by people who are losers or who need others to be losers and look to them for guidance.

    Living in a low crime neighborhood and sending my children to a decent school means far more to me than the approval of people who want to see me fail more than they want to see themselves succeed.


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