The Charter School Dilemma

I am an avid reader of The Philadelphia Public Notebook, a non-profit newspaper and website dedicated to all things related to public education in Philadelphia. The most recent issue focused on Charter Schools. This piqued my interest as I will be going to a Charter School next year after almost 7 years in the Philadelphia School District.  I read an article about the expansion of Charter Schools in Philadelphia and began scanning the comments. What I found was a not so friendly debate about the Charter School movement. Immediately what upset me the most was that two of the commenters were using Anonymous or other pseudonyms--a pet peeve of mine.  To see the full conversation you can check out the article and the comments here.

I felt the need to respond as I was disheartened by the unkind banter coming from "Anonymous." I posted this:

Here was the response:

I responded as such:
(I have posted it here as text so it is easier to read)


Is this the same Anonymous from the first conversation above?

I will first reply to your question: "What do you expect to gain from working there?"

I will gain:
  • being treated like a professional, not a cog in a wheel
  • having a say in what I teach, when I teach it and how I teach it
  • knowing that when my colleague is not towing the line or if his/her teaching is doing a disservice to his or her students that he or she will be let go (yes, I am prepared to be blasted for that statement)
  • working with a team that is dedicated to a clear mission and vision
  • not having to teach scripted programs for 2 hours a day
  • knowing that I am not being governed by a non-elected School Reform Commission run by the State
  • not wasting hours of instructional time giving my students benchmark tests that are not a true reflection of their learning (not to mention the hours of instructional time spent teaching them how to take these tests along with the PSSA prep)
I am a little confused by your grouping of Charters as 'they.' Charters are all very different. For instance, there are Charters like Mastery and KIPP that are very discipline oriented and are focused on academics and test scores. There are Charters like Independence Charter whose students take full immersion Spanish classes whether it is their native language or not. There are Charters like New Foundations whose curriculum is focused around Service Learning and whose teachers attend national conferences based on teaching Project Based Learning.

You cannot lump all Charters together is my point. They are not a united front by any means.

That said, if all of Philadelphia's public schools had the freedoms given to Charters or even traditional model schools like Penn Alexander, or perhaps if being an Empowerment school actually meant being empowered and not weighted down with rules, regulations and scripted programs I would stay in the district. Unfortunately, the schools that are the most desirable are often protected by the transfer process & tenure or are highly competitive (100 applicants for one position) or no one ever leaves unless they retire. Many of these schools that are site-select only start interviewing before the site-selection process even officially starts, so unless you know someone you are SOL.

As for funding, I too am saddened at watching funding disappear for the arts. However, I wouldn't blame it all on Charters. This is happening all over the country. Partially due to redirected funds, partially due to high stakes testing that does not included these subjects and partially due to the money put out for expensive programs to help raise test scores. It doesn't help that Ackerman got a $65,000 bonus or keeps creating new positions at the top to support her.

As for rallying against Charters, why don't we start rallying FOR the things that will make Charters unnecessary? More choice for schools in how they run themselves, more flexibility for and trust in teachers, a comprehensive study of whether giving students a standardized test every 6 weeks will really help instruction or whether formative assessment can suffice. More high quality, differentiated professional development to ensure that quality instruction is going on in ALL classrooms and accountability for those administrators and teachers who don't tow the line?
I would love to hear people's thoughts on my response or any other parts of the conversation, even if you don't agree with me.

Just keep it civil and don't post as "Anonymous." :)


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