public schools Archives - The Jose Vilson

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Education Nation Teacher Town Hall 2012

She said she doesn’t like when teachers differentiate themselves between charter and public. I nodded cautiously.

At the Education Nation Teacher Town Hall, while NBC anchor Brian Williams feigned nervousness in front of the hundreds of educators in front of us, teachers from all different groups convened at the Public Library, some from groups like National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the American Federation of Teachers (full disclosure: I went under the AFT) and other groups like Educators for Excellence (another full disclosure: -snickers hard-). One of the final people who got on the microphone said what she said about public school teachers versus charter school teachers to a good applause.

The whole crowd generally leaned towards things we believe: fractions are the hardest stumbling blocks for kids to learn in math, teachers shouldn’t be evaluated on test scores, the Chicago teachers strike needed to happen, and unions matter lots. We took surveys, had insightful discussion, and generally felt the lack of morale that most teachers in this country felt. We also felt energized by the idea that, despite how many different entities we represented, we actually care about the students we serve.


Now, there’s this often touchy subject about the difference between charter school teachers versus public school teachers (we’ll leave private / magnet / independent / parochial teachers out of this for now). The stereotype is as follows: public school teachers are old, bitter, lazy, and worn-out people just counting the days until they get to retire. They love to be protected by their union because they’re scared they’ll lose their jobs, and perpetuate the stagnation of a public school system bereft of new ideas. Except in small schools where new (often white, young, Ivy League) teachers come in.

The charter school stereotype, conversely, leans on new, inexperienced teachers who either got fed up by the public school system, came through TFA or some other elitist program, or don’t want to get all the qualifications a public school teacher has to get in order to become a real teacher (or a mix of all these pieces). The charter school teacher will most likely leave after three years because they’ll be so burnt out from all the hours they work on extra nights, weekends, and summers, and they’ll leave to law school or some job in education reform. But they’ll leave by saying how much they love the kids.

While these stereotypes might hold weight with a handful of people, I don’t care to hear it for three reasons:

  1. Strong pedagogy is strong pedagogy, no matter where it takes place.
  2. I know enough charter teachers who supported public school teachers during the Chicago Teachers strike.
  3. If we take issue with the proliferation of charter schools (as I do), hate the system, not the teachers who teach in it.

What often gets lost in the discussion between public school advocates and charter school advocates is that, at the end of the day, the average teachers on both sides want very similar things: a professional environment, a system that helps them do the best job for students, and a salary that assures that they’re fairly compensated for the job they do.

I’m not one of those “I disagree on some points that my ‘side’ makes” people who do it to serve some masters’ wishes. Instead, I proffer a better vision for this argument. We have teachers who don’t work for children on both sides of this. We have problems with salaries on both sides of this, too (though I would argue that they’re trying to get rid of public school teachers for ridiculous cost-cutting measures).

But I would never come at a charter school teacher if I knew they were as restless about getting back into class the next morning like I am. I prefer to keep the discussion on this about teachers who care about students (which is the majority of us).

So when the person who went up to the mike said that on Sunday, I nodded. I didn’t care which group she represented (alas, she didn’t have an E$E button on). I just knew she had a passion for her job, and probably wouldn’t want to leave her students. That puts us in very similar straits.

Jose, who prefers nuance over purity …


Someone recently tagged me to this piece from What About Our Daughters. I’ll let you read the rest of it on your own, but this is why misinformation is so dangerous:

As I understand it, and readers I invite you to correct me if I’m wrong, charter schools ARE public schools. So the battle isn’t over public school education, but WHO CONTROLS that public school education and the facilities where the children attending the schools are located. And I am also assuming that ALL of the kids in both charter schools and non charter schools in Harlem are children of color so what “protected class” is involved? Everybody is Black or Brown!

According to an editorial written by Jealous (he doesn’t actually write his own work-but anywhoo), he states:

“We believe that if we make all our schools great places to learn, we will have more than better institutions and better-prepared students — we will have a better country. Benjamin Jealous’ Assistant

Um so parents in NYC, what efforts, other than filing a lawsuit, is the NAACP making to improve the schools in NYC? But finally to why I wrote this post — this heartbreaking quote from Kathleen Kernivan:

“My child cannot be told that she’s not going to get to go to her school in September,” said charter school parent Kathleen Kernivan. “I cannot look her in the eye, as a parent, and tell her, ‘Well, the problem is that this group of people that Mommy told you about during Black History Month, that did all those great things a long time ago – they want to stop you from doing great things.”

OK, you’re wrong. There’s a dubious nature in which this piece was written, and it’s one that ultimately continues to ignite the racial fires stoked by those that the NAACP seeks to sue to begin with. First, Ben Jealous’ piece was very well-written, even if I don’t agree with all of his points. Secondly, it’s worth noting that the premise of charter schools started benevolently enough, but the Shock Doctrine methods of the charter school movement (i.e. – slicing up schools at will) only serves to dilute the teaching quality and school quality for our students most-in need.

Need proof? Will this article by Richard D. Kahlenberg about low-incoming students and KIPP do? Will this piece from Paul Thomas on how the “no excuses” movement is really a drilling of bourgeois values do?  But it’s about race as much as it’s about the edu-deformers. Which is why WAOD is wrong to begin with: when only a small percentage of our students really benefit from charter schools than public schools, we can’t get clouded in our judgment of what charters do just because they seem new.

If charters aren’t better than public schools by many measures, the NAACP (and any other astute observers) have every right to question why they only bring charter schools to the poorest neighborhoods. Because it’s obviously not about our daughters. Or our sons, too.

Jose, who marches to the beat …


Firing Teachers

Believe it or not, 2009 is the first year I started using a highlighter for reading a book. Maybe it’s a sign of aging, or my acclimation to getting information fed to me rapidly and succinctly, but my difficulty with concentrating on anything larger than a paragraph has led me to the magic neon-saffron marker. So you can believe my surprise when John Legend, who doesn’t have a leg to stand on in education discussions, forwarded this piece from the New York Times to his fans / followers. New York Times’ contributor Steven Brill perpetuates the idea that the New York Times continues its march to the educational right of center.

Take a look at this selection from Brill’s slanted piece:

On one side there’s the Harlem Success Academy, a kindergarten-through-fourth-grade charter with 508 students. On the other side, there’s a regular public school, P.S. 149, with 438 pre-K to 8th-grade students. They are separated only by a fire door in the middle; they share a gym and cafeteria. School reformers would argue that the difference between the two demonstrates what happens when you remove three ingredients from public education — the union, big-system bureaucracy and low expectations for disadvantaged children.

On the charter side, the children are quiet, dressed in uniforms, hard at work — and typically performing at or above grade level. Their progress in a variety of areas is tracked every six weeks, and teachers are held accountable for it. They are paid about 5 to 10 percent more than union teachers with their levels of experience. The teachers work longer than those represented by the union: school starts at 7:45 a.m., ends at 4:30 to 5:30 and begins in August. The teachers have three periods for lesson preparation, and they must be available by cellphone (supplied by the school) for parent consultations, as must the principal. They are reimbursed for taking a car service home if they stay late into the evening to work with students. There are special instruction sessions on Saturday mornings. The assumption that every child will succeed is so ingrained that (in a flourish borrowed from the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, a national charter network) each classroom is labeled with the college name of its teacher and the year these children are expected to graduate (as in “Yale 2026” for one kindergarten class I recently visited). The charter side of the building spends $18,378 per student per year. This includes actual cash outlays for everything from salaries to the car service, plus what the city says (and the charter disputes) are the value of services that the city contributes to the charter for utilities, building maintenance and even “debt service” for its share of the building.

On the other side of the fire door, I encounter about a hundred children at 9:00 a.m. watching a video in an auditorium, having begun their school day at about 8:30. Others wander the halls. Instead of the matching pension contributions paid to the charter teachers that cost the school $193 per student on the public-school side, the union contract provides a pension plan that is now costing the city $2,605 per year per pupil. All fringe benefits, including pensions and health insurance, cost $1,341 per student on the charter side, but $5,316 on this side. For the public-school teachers to attend a group meeting after hours with the principal (as happens at least once a week on the charter side) would cost $41.98 extra per hour for each attendee, and attendance would still be voluntary. Teachers are not obligated to receive phone calls from students or parents at home. Although the city’s records on spending per student generally and in any particular school are difficult to pin down because of all of the accounting intricacies, the best estimate is that it costs at least $19,358 per year to educate each student on the public side of the building, or $980 more than on the charter side.

Let’s dissect this for a second.

#1 – If charter school teachers have to work 5-10% more time for 5-10% more money, is that really a raise? No. It’s more working, which renders his $41.98 extra per hour (what teachers call “per session”) inconsequential.

#2 – Can we define levels of experience? What’s the average amount of experience teachers in charter schools have versus public schools? Numerous studies have shown that charter schools suffer from higher levels of attrition rates than public schools do, and there’s multiple factors to that, many of which unions help to address.

#3, as a corollary to #2 – How does a teacher actually get better if they don’t get enough experience to stay in their school longer than 2-3 years?

#4 – Why does Brill keep referring to this contract as the “union contract” when two parties agreed to this and when our union made so many concessions over the last five years, I find it hard to believe the union “strong-armed” anyone into it?

#5 – How does the writer manage to find the appropriate estimate for what’s spent on children when things are so “difficult to pin down?” Isn’t it a logical fallacy on his end to suggest a huge discrepancy in money per student, and furthermore, to blame the discrepancy on a body that DEPENDS on how much money per student is used?

#6 – Cell phones? Car services? That sounds to me like there’s a few benefits we’re not discussing in depth.

#7 – He fails to mention the bi-weekly mandated staff meetings and the extra 40 minutes or so per day that not all principals have integrated into the school day.

#8 – I wonder how many students who don’t fit with the charter school’s “model” get pushed to the other side. Further, I find it deceitful to put a school with as many resources as the charter school right next to the public school. It’s a typical case of the haves versus have-notes.

The rest of the article reads like a 2010 communique to reformers, and that doesn’t bode well for anyone who wants to stay in the profession long-term. I don’t have a problem with parents sending kids to charter schools if that’s the choice they’d like to have. I just see the myriad of reformers falling into the gaping holes of their arguments.

By the time I got to page 9 of the article, I stopped highlighting anything; these are low lights in our profession. And Steven Brill is the prognosticator of the death of public education.

Mr. Vilson, whose between-the-lines literacy is at an all-time high …


Dear John: Where I Disagree With Legend

March 3, 2010 Jose
John Legend

Dear John Legend, Last night at the Avery Hall in Lincoln Center (NYC), you and Common headlined an awesome town hall between some of the brightest and influential Black / Latino men in education. The line-up read like a starting roster for a hypothetical NYC Black educator panel: David Banks of the Eagle Academy as […]

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