To Be or Not to Be - Will that be the question regarding Charters?

Because I am running for a seat on the Louisiana State Board of Elementary & Secondary Education questions will be asked of me that some people weren't previously interested in asking me. In the typical forum or debate, the participants are given 1-3 minutes to respond. An adept host will pose the question in such a way that a short answer is required or possible - YES or NO.

Getting to solutions to the problems that currently face public education just simply won't be possible in a "short answer" format. Nevertheless, as a candidate who wants to serve on the state's highest policy-making body for public education, it will be incumbent upon me to offer a "short answer" that will at least shed some light on the solutions for which I advocate.

Charters - to be or not to be - is an issue for which many constituents want a short answer. I can almost guarantee a question in debate on the issue will be: Do you oppose (or support) charters? YES or NO

Much like the format of a standardized test where even bubbling in the "correct" answer reveals little about the quality of the test takers' learning, a YES or NO answer to the charter question reveals nothing about the respondent's insight regarding the charter conundrum. It certainly reveals nothing about the solutions that will be needed once a candidate is elected to BESE.

I read this conversation between Dr. Deborah Meier, well know early childhood educator and Joe Nathan, her long time colleague, friend and co-thinker from Minnesota, who is still a charter fan! Joe is the director of the Center for School Change.

Both offer their differing insights on charters and at the end,  I offer mine which is concise but addresses only one small part of the numerous problems I have experienced with charters in Louisiana. YES I have problems with charters being funded as public schools.

I know these won't be my last words on charters as the campaign progresses. If you are a proponent or opponent of funding charters as public schools in Louisiana, please offer some specifics. I promise I will discuss them in a future blog.


Dr. Meier's concluding statement:
Alas, choice and privatization are being cheered on by the most powerful forces in the country and (yes) allies who get into the highly touted schools they create, while it's tearing apart advocates of public education and public space itself. That's what we need to figure out together--a program that brings advocates for the public space together.
Joe Nathan's concluding statements:
I don't always agree with everyone supporting chartering. Neither do I agree with everyone who has supported other important expansions of opportunity over the last 40 years. Real-world progress comes from developing alliances among people who don't always agree. Chartering is not the only important strategy for improving schools. But it does respect the insights, ideas, and creativity of educators. Indeed, the idea of teacher- led schools is a growing, encouragement development. It's one of the good ideas that has come from chartering. I'll say more about other important strategies later this week.
My response to the conversation:
I am guessing that charters would not have been so widely rejected had they proven themselves first as privately funded open enrollment schools. My guess is they would not be enjoying all the private funding had the agenda been innovative quality education for all students rather than facilitators for private investment profits. Time to acknowledge the realities, not just the aspirations.

Accountability is the Soup du Jour

In Louisiana, our top policymaker and his compliant BESE fall in line with U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan in believing that accountability can only be achieved by threats and punishment using standardized test scores as a measuring tool.  

High stakes standardized testing along with its punitive consequences are NOT improving the delivery of quality instruction in the classroom where learning takes place. Tying accountability to student test scores has simply been a vehicle for takeover and privatization of our public schools.
Every teacher knows that can't accurately measure individual student learning with a one-size-fits-all standardized test.  You can only measure how many questions on a single test that a student answered correctly as per the test creator's answer key. Doesn't matter how much the student has learned or how much potential the student has for learning unless he knows the prescribed answers to the limited number of questions on the test.

For those readers not familiar with education pedagogy, you can compare using a standardized test for measure learning with an attempt to measure the circumference of a ball with a yardstick. Its inflexibility and poor design for the task make it inadequate.

Maybe John White would spin this analogy and support his use of the yardstick using the fact that you can measure the circumference of a ball with that yardstick if you use it to measure the diameter, which is a straight line measurement, and then apply a mathematical formula to produce the answer.

But to do that you have to manipulate that yardstick and ball using some method of visual guesstimation - because the yardstick is the only measurement tool you have. Then when you produce the close but inaccurate measurement for the circumference, you reproduce the ball and simply make whatever adjustments necessary till your new ball appears to be the same size as the first. It's a crude analogy but illustrates what JW is doing with student test scores and SPS. And with this, students, teachers and schools are held accountable.
But ACCOUNTABILITY is the soup du jour that has been served up to the public and we MUST find a recipe that will make it palatable and nutritious at the same time. There is a recipe, but educators must be able to simplify and demystify the term for public consumption.

We will not escape the limitations put on students and teachers via high stakes standardized testing until we do!