I got a nice acknowledgement on my most recent blog piece from Robert Skeels in his piece for the blog “Schools Matter”. Robert liked my insight into the teaching profession being disrespected and never fully treated as a real “profession” (like doctors and lawyers) because it has historically been and continues to be a “pink-collar ghetto” dominated by women. He took great issue though with my position in support of charter schools as the “only game in town” for communities to make any sort of real educational changes in their neighborhoods. Robert wrote…
I find your stance on charters somewhat lacking nuance and I think we need to find another mechanism than charters to move in a direction of democratizing schools.
In saying that “we need to find another mechanism”, I think Robert is acknowledging that he is not aware of any other mechanisms right now for moving “in a direction of democratizing schools”.
So I put it out to folks who read my blog (including the Daily KOS version), what other way is there out there for parents to transform their neighborhood public schools so those schools offer different educational paths to suit a diverse democratic community? What other way is there to see a new neighborhood school created that meets their need say for a different sort of learning venue that might be more suited to some of the kids in their neighborhood that do not do well in a highly academic, highly instructional (rather than say experiential) conventional public school?
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- Steve Barr
It was Horace Mann and his lesser known comrades in the 1830s that launched the United States into the mode of top-down education “reform” initiatives by the meritocratic and entrepreneurial elite. The legacy today is perhaps our continuing and stubbornly OSFA (one size fits all) public school system. Frederick Taylor carried that torch in the late 19th Century applying his “Scientific Management” principles to public schools. His legacy is timed classes, bells and forms in triplicate. John Dewey continued the “reform” tradition in the early 20th Century with his “Democracy and Education” and focus on civics and social studies. And in the 1990s Rod Paige brought the country his “Houston Miracle”, and its legacy, No Child Left Behind and high-stakes standardized testing.
Certainly no consistent political agenda among the four… or is there? Mann and Dewey would be considered political progressives in their day, and Taylor and Paige conservatives. But they all believed in the top-down, rather than bottom-up approach to educational governance. That is, education was a compelling state interest and therefor the state should call the shots and stage-manage every child’s education.
Today there is no shortage of members of the meritocratic elite who try to make their mark and write their legacy as education “reformers”. Bill Gates comes to mind as the exemplar, along with numerous other individuals and foundations that plow millions of dollars into studies and programs to attempt to rethink, reinvent, and revitalize our public schools. But nearly always from that top-down perspective, looking for some “best practice” that can be turned into a single grand new scheme for educational transformation. Continue reading →
Charter schools have become such a flash point in the U.S. Educational debate and a real red flag of sorts for a lot of progressive folks who see the “charter school movement” (as some supporters frame it) as forwarding a more conservative anti-union, pro-privatization agenda. I, as a progressive (I’m calling myself “left-libertarian” these days) and advocate for “many educational paths”, am drawn to charter schools as the “only game in town” when it comes to trying to (take baby steps at least to) move away from an OSFA (one size fits all) public school system.
As a parent (and not a teacher) I am sympathetic to the union issue in particular, not because I think that adult school staff should be divided into “labor versus management” but because I think teaching is a very important profession and that teachers need to create professional associations so that they are seen as such and have the appropriate clout in school governance and larger societal questions. I think most charter schools, like conventional public schools, are better served if teachers play a significant (if not the primary) role in school governance.
Though people sometimes joke, “Don’t confuse the issue with the facts!”, I did some research on any statistics I could find on charter schools, to get a better sense from the data available of the scope of the charter school “movement” or “infection” or however you might characterize it.
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