Teacher Shortage

White privilege is real. So is generational, institutionalized racism. Nowhere is it more prevalent than in our public school system. But often, those who make the rules have a hard time seeing how those rules can limit access to opportunity for others. While these issues are nothing to make light of, sometimes you need a hands-on approach to help white students or family members understand their privilege. We hope this example is of benefit to those who wish to approach these sensitive, yet undeniable, issues with an open heart and open mind. (Download a PDF of the flyer here.)

RULES:

Set up your GAME BOARD. Give yourself cash, properties and hotels and houses, totaling $18,000. Your opponent gets the traditional $1,500 to start. This 12:1 disparity represents the median amount of wealth transferred from whites to their heirs, compared with African Americans.

There are two sets of CARDS. Educational injustices experienced by students of color go in the FAT CHANCE pile (click here to print your own cards). Tax breaks, stock market gains, work bonuses, opportunities due to “who you know,” etc. go in the PRIVILEGED COMMUNITY CHEST.

They choose their TOKEN (the IRON, because it’s the only one that’s left), and the game commences.

When they notice that the board is not set up equitably, they complain. You respond with, “That’s in the past. We’re all equal now. Let’s play!“ You roll and proceed to move forward the correct number of spaces.

When a player lands on a “DRAW A CARD” SQUARE, you draw from PRIVILEGED COMMUNITY CHEST. Your opponent draws from the FAT CHANCE pile. These distinctly different stacks of cards represent the systemic disparities still in place from generations of targeting, profiling and redlining of the black community reflected in policies and norms throughout society today.

When your opponent lands on YOUR PROPERTIES, they pay you RENT. If you own all properties in a COLOR GROUP, their rent is DOUBLED.

When you land on THEIR PROPERTIES, same thing. Except, they probably don’t own any properties, you bought most of them (or inherited them) before they got there.

Eventually, they will inevitably land on one of your HOUSES or HOTELS and they won’t have enough cash to continue. If they happen to have purchased a property, they have the option to MORTGAGE their property to the bank in order to stay in the game. However, they only get half the LOAN AMOUNT on the back of the card.

When your opponent runs out of cash, they have to GO TO JAIL, while you continue to roll the dice until all assets have been acquired. If they complain about any of the rules, you say, “That was one of the rules that was decided on before you got here. Don’t like it? Get here earlier next time.”

OBJECT OF THE GAME:

To inspire whites to understand their privilege enough to research it and develop talking points so they can respond to others who try to marginalize it by saying racism or privilege don’t exist, and to commit to fight to create equitable learning opportunities for our children of color.

Credits: Created by Gay Adelmann. Inspired by Shelton McElroy and Jane Elliott.

Disclaimer: We realize this post will probably upset some of our white followers. However, in this current climate, and the increasing suffering of our students of color, we believe it’s a chance we must take. If you disagree with the examples presented in this post, it’s possible that you are not one of the ones impacted by them. The FAT CHANCE CARDS were created based on actual examples experienced by students of color in our district. These hurdles continue to happen every day in our schools. And we cannot end them until we acknowledge they exist.

We are pleased to report an update to this story. We have heard that this item will be coming off Tuesday night’s agenda. Advocacy works!

 

Dear JCPS,

Tuesday night, the JCPS Board of Education is looking to revise the minimum job requirements of library director for JCPS, just in time to replace our current retiring director.

In order to become a librarian, I had to obtain an additional Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. This was after I already had a Master’s in Education and a Master’s in Literacy. I have a Rank I, three Master’s degrees and a Bachelor’s degree. Despite all of my credentials prior to obtaining my LIS degree, I still needed an additional degree to become a librarian. And even though I had nine years of teaching under my belt, I really wasn’t qualified to be a librarian until I had completed my degree. Through the completion of this degree, I learned the skills and tools necessary to become a librarian.

Despite what people believe, no, librarians don’t just read books to kids all day. Librarians are more important than that. We are advocates for literacy, research, and support in learning endeavors in schools. We are the go-to spot for current, relevant and factual information. We are essential guides to finding the best resources to achieve goals. We are essential in promoting schoolwide literacy initiatives. We are essential in creating a school culture that promotes and supports the foundations that students need to succeed. We teach teachers. We select materials that support learning. We do so much more above and beyond the minimum job requirements of any teacher. We encourage new readers, foster book groups and promote communities of reading. We are the backbone of each and every school in JCPS.

With that being said, a librarian director for JCPS should be just as qualified to lead more than 155 librarians in our district. A teacher with an admin degree doesn’t have the skills necessary to lead and advocate for our librarians. How can a person with an admin degree lead and teach 155 teachers when they themselves don’t have any concept of what it means to be a librarian? How can a person who has no knowledge of library and information science lead librarians when they have no experience being/doing what a librarian is/does?

I own a car. I’ve been driving for well over 20 years now. I’ve own multiple cars in my life of a variety of makes and models. I’m pretty competent in driving a car and identifying most of the parts of a car. But when I need my car serviced, I take it to a qualified mechanic who knows how everything works under the hood because they know how to diagnose and repair. They have the experience, tools, and training to get the job done. Just because I have experience with cars doesn’t mean I know how to speak the language of a mechanic, or repair the car. It doesn’t mean I can repair my own car, or train mechanics how to repair a car.

Likewise, just because a person has “leadership experience working with diverse populations” doesn’t mean they have the tools, skills, and experience necessary to lead, teach, evaluate, advocate for, and direct 155 librarians in the field of library science. I urge you to vote against these revisions. JCPS doesn’t need a body with an admin degree to fill an open position. We need someone who knows who and what a librarian truly is.

Dear JCPS Board of Education,

In February, I wrote to you as a parent of a Maupin student with my concerns about the possible impacts of an audit on Maupin Elementary after being placed into “priority status”. My original concerns, quoted below this letter in many ways have not changed. The only thing that has become clear since that time is that the District continues to take actions that will lead to the end of the Catalpa model at Maupin unless you take action to forge a different path.

From early on in the implementation of this program, the leadership of the school and district have continuously reneged on promises, degraded the integrity of the Waldorf model, and made unilateral decisions that silenced the voices of teachers and parents at the school and in the Parkland neighborhood and have brought us to this precipice point. While I could write you a long letter describing the ways my family has dreamed of having access to Waldorf education for our children and would never have the economic access to attend a Waldorf school outside of a public school system (something that is true), today, even though my family will be affected by this decision, the reality is that as a family with many underserved privileges that come with white skin and being perceived as “middle-class”, I know that my family will ultimately be okay whatever decision is made. However, this is exactly this reason that I am writing to you today. The reality is that families in West Louisville who bear the brunt and the burden of racial injustice in this community will be harmed by the removal of the Waldorf program at Maupin.

It should be acknowledged that in the beginning of this program, neighborhood families, as I understand it, were skeptical that Waldorf was right for their community (and made me hesitant to choose this magnet for my child), but over the two years that this program has begun to sink its roots into the community, neighborhood parents have shared the many ways they have come value the Waldorf approach to education. If these families were not given a voice the process of bringing the disruption of a new model to their school two years ago, we absolutely owe them the opportunity to be major contributors to the process now.

During a parent meeting at Maupin in February, Principal, Maria Holmes expressed that she felt that Waldorf was not providing equitable education for many students whose unstable life situations caused them to leave the school and need to integrate into a different educational setting. While I appreciated and agreed with this concern, I have ultimately come to disagree with the conclusion that Waldorf-type education would necessarily lead to this imbalance. Because here’s the reality: education will never be able to educate away poverty, and systemic racism. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I don’t believe there is any program or system that can actually wipe out the affects of poverty, racism, and trauma that educators are tasked with “educating out of the classroom”. Maupin did not “fail” because Waldorf creates inequitable ways of educating. Frankly, I believe It failed because the district and principal, consciously or not, did not believe that it could succeed with black children. They actually reinforced the stereotype that they could have addressed by providing the kinds of supports that begin to address inequity: access to health care and mental health services, family supports, access to jobs and job training for parents, supporting programs for home ownership and economic development, etc.. But these are big problems that are seen outside of the scope of education—these are the challenges of dismantling systemic Racism with a capital R. The Kentucky Department of Education and indeed, JCPS have shown and time and time again that they don’t see the need to do that and would prefer to fall back on blaming teachers, parents and students for their failures as measured by standardized tests measuring unstandardized lives.

So right now, I see that the board actually has two choices. 1.) The board can vote to support a system that ultimately always chooses to protect itself. I get it: KDE is sort of driving this bus right now; so, choosing not to go along with the district’s plan is going to be incredibly challenging. It will be a fight. OR 2.) You can decide to make a choice that values the input of community stakeholders who have the most to gain or lose by this decision and you can demand a leadership chain (including finding a new superintendent immediately) that is willing to do whatever is needed to tackle the BIG R issues that get in the way of education. And if the Waldorf model stays at Maupin, the school and TEACHERS MUST be given absolute support to fully implement the model at every level of the school.

Thank you for considering this perspective. I hope you will hear the families of West Louisville.

Emily Pickett,
Parent

This letter was from 2015. It reveals that the Catalpa school was not receiving the support it needed from the beginning. And that the administration was trying to change instruction back then, as well. Tonight’s vote is more of a matter of asking the board to rubber stamp a defacto decision the district has been implementing since the beginning. As a parent at Shawnee, I witnessed what happens to schools that endure constant “change for the sake of change” activities. We cannot let this pattern continue.

Letter from Maupin parent to Board Member Chris Kolb:

Chris,

Again I can’t thank you enough for all the time that has been spent trying to help us when you didn’t have to.  When I read your comments yesterday, I was starting to be okay with Maupin possibly losing this program.  It was not until I read the research paper that Dr. Herring and Joe Leffert created that made me rethink everything.  Attachment C, that you can find on the board website talks about all the considerations or recommendations for Maupin Ele. This research paper was well written and clearly written to only side with those who believe that Maupin should not stay Catalpa.  There was not one single attachment given to the board talking about the great things happening at Maupin.  About any of the kids who have started to show signs of improvement.  The kids who have improved in their reading levels or about how many of those kids last year who couldn’t identify those letters, how many can they now? What about how the slow implementation of this program was the downfall for the Catalpa model.  What got me was these statements from that document the first being ”  Both magnet parents and teaching staff have had difficulty understanding and discerning how to blend the Waldorf traditions with the KY Core Academic Standards, timelines, and benchmarks.” Not sure who that was supposed to be directed to, but I have no difficulty understanding or discerning anything.  Most of my confusion is because of the false information I continue to receive from those with all the answers.

And then there was this statement “Waldorf education needs support of Waldorf parenting.  Poor and working class parents employ different parenting practices (accomplishment of natural growth vs. concerted cultivation –Lareau) than their middle class counterparts”.  They are absolutely correct but change would happen if we supported those poor and working class parents learn how to incorporate Waldorf parenting. That is exactly what I am trying to do but feel stalled having to fight this fight.

The other things they outlined were well documented but I would like to see what would this look like if we have known all of this last year. What would this have looked like if this time last year we were working to make improvements for the  16-17 school year.?Give MWhy didn’t they draw up all this last year right after the test scores came out?  Were they holding on to a wish and a prayer instead of going in and making changes?  Did they do all this just to watch it fail, just to see what would happen? They didn’t hurt anyone but the kids, it’s the kids that are affected not the adults.

Waldorf Education has several key differences from “Mainstream Education” including the following:
· Waldorf schools as well as their teachers require strict certification. A curriculum is followed which is considered developmentally appropriate within which the child has a certain amount of freedom to determine their own learning.
· Waldorf place a strong emphasis on imagination and children are encouraged to make their own toys from material at hand.
· Waldorf is outspoken about children not being exposed to popular media and social media. Computers are limited to the upper school grades as children should develop and create their own worlds.
· A strong sense of society is incorporated into the methodology – teaching children to look after themselves, think for themselves, caring for others and avoidance of violence. Teachers are encouraged to explore new ideas and to allow them to be guided by exploration of students.
· Textbooks are limited and mostly used to supplement learning such as math and grammar in the higher grades. Children compile their own “textbooks” through the year, filling them with information of their experiences of what they have learned.
· It is common that teachers stay with a class from first to eighth grade. This way a deep human relationship can be built, which is not possible where teachers frequently change.
· Reading is not taught until second grade. Waldorf educators believe that in the early years children should be read to, be told fairy tales to stimulate imagination and be allowed to play.
· In the Waldorf School writing is taught before reading and the alphabet is explored as a tool to communicate with others through pictures. This way writing evolves out of art and children’s doodles instead of reproduction of written content.
· In Waldorf schooling kindergarten is play-based and does not introduce alphabetic principles.
· Sample Primary (1-3 Grade) Curriculum is: Pictorial introduction to the alphabet, writing, reading, spelling, poetry and drama.  Folk and fairy tales, fables, legends, Old Testament stories. Numbers, basic mathematical processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Nature stories, house building and gardening.

These things outlined here, if implemented properly, would change everything about the life of a student who lives in the West End. This is something beyond different but could be the answer to our kids learning issues.  The kids who were tested never had the chance to spend a year under this training.

I urge you to vote No to this recommendation.  As a community we will work to make this work.  Give us what they promised 2 years ago and make sure the implementation is done correctly.   I ask that they give us a chance to make it work and for us to show you that this program will not only change this school but it will change the community around this school.  We need another year to show you, let my second grader who will be in 3rd grade next year show you want a JCPS student with Waldorf education looks like.  She will show you how a kid on an IEP can impress you with her ability.

Carla Robinson
Maupin “Resides” Parent

Dear JCPS Board of Education Members,

On November 30, I spoke before the board and asked for follow-up data with regards to Adam Edelen’s audit. To date, I have not received a response.

In particular, I am interested in knowing how the following numbers look today, relative to what was identified by the audit several years ago.

  • JCPS ranks at or near the bottom in teacher staffing and expenditures for instruction, while ranking highest in the categories of administrators, support staff and instructional aides.1
  • Specifically, he found that the district pays 369 administrators more than $100,000 a year.2
  • JCPS also had the second-highest student-to-teacher ratio,
  • JCPS ranked the lowest in instructional spending, (at 53 percent of its budget (four of the other five were 60 percent or higher), while ranking highest in administration and operations spending, at 31 percent of its budget.)

Please provide a report with this information as soon as possible.

Following the April 26 board meeting last year when the Community Advisory Team (CAT) made observations that “JCPS needs market reconciliation for teachers, certified administrators and classified positions,” – nearly a year ago –  I sent district leaders the following email message (to which I also received no formal response). In addition to concerns about the CAT make-up, I also mentioned:

“… you’ll recall, the original audit from Adam Edelen came with the observation that administrative salaries were too high, not teachers’. So I’m not sure how this discussion led to the talking point that teachers are “overpaid.” I’m guessing the committee mix above could have had something to do with it. … Again, we feel that the make-up of this committee has led to some very short-sighted conclusions, and seems to have missed the point entirely.”

Upon requesting information as to how these recommendations came about, we were told no minutes were kept. It would appear to us that open meetings and open records laws were violated. Honest mistake, perhaps, but much of this painful detour could have been avoided had the process been more transparent and inclusive of authentic stakeholder input from the beginning.

I further cautioned, “Parents, community members, teachers, students all need district leaders who will do better than this. We ask that JCPS go back to the drawing board to make sure these decisions are being influenced by committees made up of people who bring balanced and “tuned-in” perspectives, who will work together to find equitable and sustainable solutions, and provide our school board with proposals that are likely to result in the best results — the first time! Our kids’ futures are at stake. We don’t get do-overs.”

Taxpayers deserve transparent decision-making and authentic answers to our questions. We expect to see action taken as it relates to the actual “action items” in the audit, or answers that can be used to dispel myths that continue to be used against our district in Frankfort. And we demand accountability. When mistakes are made, we want to know, as our former board chair put it so eloquently, “whose throat to choke.”

I truly thank you for your willingness to serve as an advocate for Jefferson County students. I look forward to your reply.

Thanks, Gay

Gay Adelmann
Dear JCPS

Dear JCPS,

I don’t want an apology from MAG. I want an apology from Dr. Hargens.

To make a public spectacle about cutting teachers’ pay (and being forced by the union to grant years-of-service Steps) based on erroneous data is unacceptable. ( Why weren’t the figures given to department heads to compare to actual payroll data? It would seem SOMEONE would cross reference the salary figures, in at least a few departments, prior to recommending something so drastic as cutting pay.) This action alone is enough to diminish trust in the district’s ability to make sound decisions. Honestly, I lost trust long ago.

Click to play.

But, Dr. Hargens’ statement that this $40 million mistake is the cause of teachers feeling undervalued and unappreciated is what I find absolutely unforgivable. It’s not just a feeling. It’s a fact that teachers are undervalued and unappreciated, specifically and precisely, due to this district’s policies that create over-worked, exhausted, paper-pushing teachers; a fear-based, top-down administrative approach, and policies that strip teachers and students of time, creativity, and a voice.

Clearly the atmosphere in our communities and in our schools has changed dramatically – violence, drug use, poverty. high-stakes testing, budget cuts. Teachers’ roles have changed and responsibilities have spiked. JCPS’ policies have failed to acknowledge, much less support these changing roles and THIS is the cause of teachers’ reality of being undervalued and unappreciated.

Signed,
Frustrated

This letter was submitted via our Open Letter Form.

 

Dear JCPS,

Is there a solution for the number of classrooms without teachers? Recently, several teachers have been pulled from classrooms to fulfill district level positions, which allows them to “support” schools from Gheens Academy. This has left thousands of students without a teacher in a core classroom due to the shortage of available teachers for hire. This is not the first year that this has occurred. I understand that there is movement within schools as positions become available, however I do not agree with taking an experienced certified teacher out of the classroom mid-year and replacing them with a non-certified substitute or inexperienced teacher from an alternative certification program. Placing a new teacher in a classroom mid-year not only sets the teacher up to fail, but the students as well no matter how much district “support” is given. I propose that if teachers are interested in higher level positions that they can apply, be offered, but cannot officially begin the position until the next school year. We have many retired administrators that can be used as substitutes for the remainder of the school year so that vacancies are not created in the classroom and student achievement is not affected.

Thank you,

Concerned School Employee

 

While the letter’s author name is withheld here, they are not anonymous to us. Any board member wishing to follow up with the letter’s author can contact us to make arrangements to do so.

This is an email that was sent by an Academy @ Shawnee Sophomore to Dr. Hargens on Sunday, Nov. 27. She asked that Dear JCPS publish it our our open letter forum.

Dear Dr. Hargens,jessica

I wanted to follow up with you in regards to my speech that I gave at the JCPS Board meeting on November, 15th. On your way out the door when my mother mentioned a possible follow up email being sent about #BringBacktheColonel your response was “think about the programs as a whole, not just one person.” So, I went home and read again the letter that was sent home by Ms. Benboe on November 9th, explaining the personnel changes that happened at my school, the Academy@Shawnee, over a 4 day break for the students. What I noticed was the statement about the magnet programs. The following was taken directly from the letter:

FINALLY, OUR MAGNET PROGRAMS HAVE NOT CHANGED; STUDENTS WILL CONTINUE TO RECEIVE SUPPORT AND RESOURCES FOR ALL OF OUR CURRENT MAGNET PROGRAMS.

When Ms. Benboe and the District transfers the magnet coordinator, Col. William Vander Meer with no plans to replace him, then to say that the magnet programs will not change is a contradiction. The programs changed at 2:30 in the afternoon on Nov. 4 when the Colonel was told that he was being transferred to Central High School, effective immediately. We, the students, will not continue to receive ALL the support and resources that were available to us with the Colonel gone. I’ll share with you an example about the aviation program. On November 5th, the day after his transfer, there were about 15 Shawnee Middle and High school students that were to meet him at Hanger 7 at Bowman Field, to take plane rides. Only because he holds a seat on the Board of Directors for Hanger 7, were those students, myself included, still able to go on the plane rides. I actually got to fly a plane and logged air time for the first time that morning. Those types of outings and programs were the direct result from the Colonels passion for the kids, for learning and for the excitement of aviation.

Another example that maybe you are not aware of, is a new program with UPS, which the Colonel was able to arrange for our school. The freshman this year will be paired up with UPS pilots. The pilots will follow and mentor, one on one, the students for their entire 4 years in high school. What an opportunity. Once again it was because of the Colonel’s connections with the community and his drive for the success of the Academy@Shawnee.

I could you give example after example, if you care to listen, of how the Colonel’s 19 years of experience and his community connections promotes all of the students attending the Academy@Shawnee’s Middle and High Schools. He was one of a few administration personal that was bridging the Middle school to the High school.

However, I would like to share with you how I felt when I was attending the Board meeting that night. During the first part of the meeting when schools were getting recognized, I was sitting in the audience getting frustrated, hurt and then angry. All of these schools were talking about teacher relationships with their students and how awesome of an experience that is. Our school has teachers leaving to go to different school to teach every single day. So, to have the few remaining in our building meant the world to me and to the other 150 children that signed our petition. The swift and quiet transfer of the Colonel just feels like a punishment. A punishment in which our school does not deserve. I have already had the experience earlier this year of a teacher being fired by the District and then just 6 days later she was reinstated by the District to her teaching position. So, that is why I am asking you again: Dr. Hargens, will you please transfer Col. William VanderMeer back to the Academy@Shawnee?

Regards,
Jessica Bennett

Trump’s latest appointment is the Secretary of Education. She is pro charter school. Making my career in education I think I’d like to weigh in on this and give my opinion. Having been subject to the deluge of opinions and memes over the past two weeks, why not throw one out there myself?

This post is my own opinion, not on work time, and not to be confused as anything but my opinion as a voting aged, tax-paying American.

I am opposed to charter schools and voucher systems. Not shocking, as I work in education. I’d like to outline why I am against them, and what I think can be done instead. Perhaps it will help you form an opinion on the matter and since on facebook we all love to tell each other what to think, might as well weigh in on something that I know a little something about.

Hidden behind the innocuous name “school choice” are charter schools. Here is a basic fact most don’t know about Kentucky. In most districts you already have a great deal of choice. Outside of a variety of public schools, you have private schools. Before you say that’s a rich man’s game – it’s not. There is a wealth of students in private school backed by charitable ventures. The term “school choice” is used because it sounds positive, and it doesn’t at all point to the inequities that charters can bring to the table. I am 100% in favor of private schools – you want to put one together and fund it, by all means. But if you want to fund it with the collective pot of money known as taxes, I am not for it.

In brief I am opposed to charters because of the following reasons:

  1. Charter schools are an easy buzzword answer to a complex problem. Complex problems never have easy answers. In this case we are playing with the futures of kids. I won’t stand idly by with that much on the line to be decided by a simple answer.
  2. In Kentucky our funding model for schools is not optimal. It relies on average daily attendance rather than enrollment for basic funding and as the years go on the state shifts the burdens of unfunded mandates back to the districts. This creates inequity for the smaller and poorer districts. If the system is not right to begin with, the answer is to fix the system rather than look to an alternative.
  3. Charters can choose who they educate with my tax dollars. They can say no to a poor kid, a special ed kid or whomever they wish. If I am going to pay for the system, then the system has to take all kids. I think that’s an equitable use of my tax dollars. I am not interested in funding a selective school with my taxes. If I want to fund a private school, that is a choice I can choose to make. If instead I am going to toss money into the collective pot for all – then it needs to serve all.
  4. They are not subject to the same mind-numbing bureaucratic red tape public schools are. This red tape is killing our schools. I can go on for days on the amount of inane busywork the state and federal government foist upon teachers and administrators.
  5. Because the current endeavors surrounding “for profit” education should be an indication of the quality of service one could expect.nochoice

The current “for profit” endeavors mostly center around testing. Right now public education is making a lot of folk’s money. It’s not the teachers, or even the administrators (an easy punching bag) and it sure isn’t the kids. Corporations hiding behind “accountability measures” and “intervention programs” are getting rich off the backs of students and schools. Look up how much Kentucky spends on KPREP, ACT, Industry cert exams, and the litany of accountability measures we are all subject to. Look at what your local school or district is forced to pay for these things and ask yourself is that a wise expenditure of funds? I am not opposed to testing, in fact in many instances it serves as an excellent diagnosis tool both in terms of the program provided, and the individual student’s competency level in a given area. However, we are awash in testing to the point where it has become too much. Again, ask your local school or district how much of a student’s year is spent in assessment. Then ask the state ‘why’, and for what purpose is this being done? Then ask how much. Divide that number by the cost of an average educator and ask if that money would have been better served elsewhere. Rather than more money flow into the coffers of Pearson, ACT, or another edu-corp it would make more sense to put that money on the front line in buildings and districts, working with students.

This system of accountability and the dollar signs attached to testing is one of my chief complaints of public education. Trust me, I love public education. It is what I’ve dedicated my adult working life to, and I believe in it, value it, and am champion for it. I will also be the first to say we have gone off the rails as a state and moreso a nation on the altar of testing. It’s too much and it’s doing a disservice to students, teachers, and administrators. I am not against accountability, but we’ve gone to far. I don’t want my kids spending 5-10 days a year doing standardized tests, and I don’t like the fact that we do it to students right now. I could say no (and then lose my job rather quickly) or use my not at work voice and advocate to anyone who will listen to be voices to change that aspect of our system.

My fear is that introducing private enterprise into school business will be much the same as the edu-corps and their introduction into the money making business of accountability. Right now they’re making wheelbarrows of money off testing. I can’t imagine the harm that will come when they get into the classroom. I’m sure it will look but under the hood will be hidden some darker things. If you want an example go google some charters. Look at their results, and then at their admission policies. If they are killing it in the for profit world and they are educating ANY kid (ESL, ELL, Special ed, impoverished) that walks off the street- more power to them and they need to share their special recipe. Until I see replicable models of charters that work with the same students as the public school has to take, I won’t believe they’re anything more than a private school with selective enrollment being paid for by my tax dollars. I’m not OK with my taxes paying for some kids to be successful, and some not by design. If I’m going to pay for it I’d like them to have an even shot.

The argument for a charter and “school choice” is an inviting argument. It’s built on the narrative that public schools are failing. In some places they are. Either through poor funding, poor management, or other issues, they are failing. However, in many places they are chugging along just fine. When was the last time you read a story “local public school is doing just fine” or instead saw “Detroit schools are falling apart and are full of mold.” Ask yourself which one is more provocative to report on? Rather than critically look at the system we rely on short snippets and sensational stories to guide our opinions. Again, these are the lives of students and their futures. I’d urge you to take a broader view of the system. If all you see is at the local level and you pay your taxes and feel anger that the local school isn’t doing well. I get it. So you hear the talk of school choice and it sounds good. I’ll ask you to consider instead improving the system in place. It’s not broken, and in many cases it’s great. It does however have numerous problems, some of its own design, and some out of its hands. In the hands of the voters are many of these decisions.

I would urge you to become informed about some of the systemic issues facing public education and be an advocate to change them, and in some cases outright fix them before you look at charter schools as a solution.

The second argument for charter schools is “I’d rather be able to direct my tax money how I see fit”. I can understand that sentiment, but I believe an educated society is a benefit to all. I would instead say you are paying to have kids educated in the democratic process, become thinkers, doers, and contributors to society. While it might be ok to look at a voucher in your pocket as a better means to self-govern what happens with your kids I’d ask you to consider the whole first. I believe a well-funded public system is a benefit to all. If you do not, you have options- private school and homeschool. Both can require sacrifices to achieve. I’m willing to say the benefit to the whole of the community (paying taxes to fund public schools) than the benefit to the individual (a voucher in your pocket). You may not agree with that, and you may not agree with the two alternatives I listed and that’s OK. You probably wouldn’t agree when I further say I think we need *more* tax money being funneled to education. If I had my way we’d spend far more on education than we would many other things. The beauty is we can both be advocates for what we believe in, and I will hope that those who feel as I do outvote those who feel as you do.

Outside of the basic taxes for the individual versus taxes for the collective good if you want some suggestions to improve the system rather than look at charters as the silver bullet I’d be happy to give some.

Here’s my take based on my experience. It’s only my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth:

  1. Equitably fund schools based on need. Divest yourself of the idea that all schools in a district should be funded equally. It doesn’t work. We know this. We see it every year. Instead if you want a more equitable outcome- put more money to places that have more need. Provide the school with the educational resources to educate the clientele that walks in the door. Advocate for this. Points 2-9 really are 50% of the battle, and this one is the other 50%. If you need proof look at a couple of things. Pick our state or any state and look at the bottom 5 schools by the available metrics. If they were the same bottom 5- 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago AND they were funded relatively on the same model over the years- then the problem lies with the system of funding, not with the school.
  2. Cease summative end of the year testing in favor of interim, shorter assessment to look at student growth. Move away from the accountability altar and instead spend the massive amounts of money spent in its name on improving the direct education of students, rather than creating data for praise/ blame and to categorize schools. If you are a non-educator and can explain to me our current accountability system correctly- I’ll give you a dollar. If you are an educator I’d almost challenge you to the same. We have gone in 15-20 years from relatively no accountability to dying at the altar of testing. There MUST be a happy medium that can satisfy the politicians and public who want results, and the educators and students who have to spend instructional time on this endeavor.
  3. Advocate to the state department to stop any mandated change/ law/ procedure unless it comes with state funding to make it happen. Districts are being crippled by state mandates that they must dip into their local tax based coffers to pay for.
  4. Provide the resources for real behavior intervention. That means different places (re: schools) for chronic offenders so that they can get real help AND resources and support inside of existing schools as a frontline. A good alternative school works. There are several in the state- Oldham, Bullitt, many others. It can’t be set up like a prison, it must have the resources in place to teach replacement behaviors. Also in the same vein have a court system that isn’t overburdened with cases. Our judges don’t have enough time to see the issues that come in front of them. The answer isn’t limiting reporting the issues, the answer is putting more people to the problem in terms of adjudication, and support to change behaviors. I am 100% in favor of holding a kid accountable, but we can’t take the pithy approach of “whoop em, it worked for me”. No, it probably didn’t. you probably had more support in place. Many of our students don’t have the supports in place to succeed and if we force them (which we do with compulsory attendance laws) then the burden comes to society to put the structures in place to support them.
  5. Drop the agrarian calendar. We aren’t farmers anymore. The summer break we have doesn’t serve kids in terms of retention of content. Summer slide is real. Instead to give students needed breaks, go to a calendar that is year round with more one to two week breaks interspersed in it.
  6. Take a hard look at IDEA and current special education laws and have an honest look at whether or not they are truly helping students with diverse learning needs, or creating even bigger gaps. Do not take this as anti-special education- instead hear me when I say that this area requires much work.
  7. Take a hard look at any union or employment contract that doesn’t give administrators a non-cumbersome way to part ways with poor teachers. On the other side of the coin, create a structure that does the same to remove poor administrators before their damage is measured in years. Don’t take this point as being anti-union, it’s not. Take it as being pro-effective teaching. Truth is some teachers and some principals aren’t suited for their roles. When it is apparent it should not take years to remove them from their positions. I am pro union. I think it protects workers from mismanagement and exploitation. I do think though we have in many cases swung the pendulum too far away from that and have protected folks who have no business working with students. Like accountability there has to be a happy medium.
  8. As a society figure out a way to hold parents to more accountability for involvement in schools. I don’t know what this would be, but we all know we need it, and it starts at home. Solve that and you’ll get a nobel prize I think.
  9. Lastly: Stop demonizing the outliers. By that I mean the sensational article about the random kid who does something bad. Or the teacher that makes a bad choice. Or the administrator who does something unpopular. Realize that the outliers aren’t the norm. Celebrate the good things that are going on every day in schools.

This post was written by a principal within JCPS who has asked to remain anonymous.