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July 10, 2012

seven improvements we can learn from charter schools

Diane Ravitch's blog is my new favorite blog. She is an education specialist who at one point was fully on-board with No Child Left Behind but then looked into the data and had a full-on conversion and now is very vocal about how awful most of the education "reform" being passed around today is. She was recently fired from the Brookings Institute for publicly pointing out that Romney's education plan would quickly destroy public education. She's a treasure. Now It Can Be Told! The Secrets to Success and Riches -- Diane Ravitch's blog
After twenty years of charter school experimentation, we now have a pretty solid idea of “what works.” The same things that “work” in charter schools should also work in public schools. We should not waste time. Let’s learn from the charters so all schools can be successful schools. First, the best charters spend considerably more money so that they can provide additional services and tutoring. Some spend thousands more per student. That is an important lesson. Every public school that wants to see dramatic improvement should get extra funding. Second, the charters are free of burdensome regulation by the states and districts. That’s an important finding. The states and districts should immediately give public schools the same regulatory relief now available to charters. Third, the charters do not accept the same proportion of students with special needs or students who are English language learners. Uh-oh. That’s a hard one. Public schools are required by state and federal laws to have their doors open to all students. I don’t think that public schools can follow the charter model here. If public schools didn’t take these students, where would they go? Fourth, the charters have even more money to spend because of the small proportion of children with disabilities and English language learners; this is a budget plus. But again, I don’t think public schools can maximize their dollars by excluding the most expensive-to-educate kids. So that’s another no-go. Fifth, the charters make their own disciplinary rules and can toss out kids who misbehave by their rules, like bringing chips to school or not looking in the eyes of the teacher, or speaking up when they are supposed to walk in silence. But if public schools kicked out kids for minor infractions, where would they go? To another public school. Sixth, the charters have longer school days, longer school weeks, and a longer school year. More time to teach, more time to get ready for state tests. Public schools can do that too, unless those pesky unions insist on being paid more for working longer hours. Seventh, charters keep their costs low by encouraging or tolerating or not minding constant turnover among the teachers. That way, the bulk of teachers are in year one or two, at the bottom of the salary scale, and they are more malleable. Senior teachers cost more, and have ideas of their own. But public schools will have a hard time learning this lesson because senior teachers have job rights. Of course, with the current move on to eliminate seniority and tenure, even public schools will soon be dealing mainly with inexperienced and malleable teachers in their first year. Who will train the new teachers if the senior teachers have left? Well, that’a a problem we will deal with some other time. No one has time to think about that now. But one thing seems clear: If public schools get more money; if they can be freed of regulations, if they can exclude the most challenging students, if they have longer hours, if they have constant teacher turnover to save money, if they can keep out or push out the students who don’t obey or who can’t pass the tests, then they too will get fabulous results. . . .