Friday, December 23, 2005

A Response to Anne

My computer has been having problems lately, so I've had to resort to accessing the internet at other places. I would like to elaborate just a bit for Anne's sake. She took the time to post a comment on my last blog.

First of all, I don't suffer from a martyr's complex. I don't go around thinking everyone's got it out for me. I was intimately involved in a charter school initial start up and three years of operations. I was involved locally, at the state level, and at the national level via the national charter school conventions. I do know what I'm talking about.

Opposition from the teachers union:

While attending a state level meeting a few years back, a represetative from the Oklahoma teacher's union came to speak to our charter school group. He stated the union's opposition to charter schools. I must admit, it took guts for him to say that to a group of charter school people. After questioning him a bit, he indicated he personally wasn't opposed, but he was stating the position of the union.

By the way, the Tulsa charter schools employ a majority of teachers with experience. The charter school law states that one of the reason for the law is to improve the opportunities for educators. This indeed is happening.

Opposition from TPS:

When we started up an unofficial TPS campaign of misinformation was launched. We were not accredited, we did not hire certified teachers, we "cherry-picked our students, etc. All lies.

I contacted the TPS Education Service Center to get an application for a charter school. I was told they did not have one and we would have to get it from the State Department of Education. We contacted the SDE and they said it was the districts responsibility. Three years earlier TPS provided TSAS with an application. It was obvious that they were stonewalling.

After the last application you mentioned, Dr. Sawyer publicly announced his oppostion to opening of any more charter schools in Tulsa. So far, not one more has opened. I think everyone knows not to bother, since it won't be approved anyway, and the application is a lot of work!

Have you ever wondered why the Tulsa World doesn't publish any articles about T-Town's 3 charter schools? Word is, they won't fire anything across the bow of TPS on this. Charter schools threaten the status quo of TPS, but offer a real alternative to the traditional public school.

4 comments:

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Anne Hutchinson said...

Anne’s Reply ---

First of all, thanks for taking the time for your response. I can certainly understand your passion given your experience with a charter school. I taught for many years in a private school (though not for some time now). My children received an excellent education in public schools (as I did). I have been involved in improving education in both private and public settings. There is an important need for both ... for diverse, quality public education as well as a vibrant range of private choices.

Throughout my several decades experience with schools, both public and private I have seen both high quality and poor quality opportunities in both settings. A private or charter is no guarantee of a quality education just as a public education is not a sentence to a poor education. The most dangerous part of the public debate is the assumption of either extreme as a premise for lobbing grenades.

Public, charter and private schools share a number of common denominators. Each bears some responsibility for the formation of young minds. Each must address basic components of knowledge we hold important (though the mix of these changes from school to school). Each seeks to balance a number of challenges including optimal class sizes, schedules, instructional priorities, limited finances and teaching talent.

I have, however, found one common denominator across all types of schools which relates to the depth and quality of student outcomes ... the level of parent involvement. In private and charter settings, parents have greater likelihood of this involvement. In my experience, however, this involvement was sometimes used as negative pressure on their children (“You better work hard. I’m paying for this education!”).

In public schools, too often the choice of which school to attend is often left to default. TPS has a number of programs and schools of choice offering unique opportunities. While some are available by application only (as in private or charter schools), in TPS, students can openly transfer to any school in the district on a space available basis.

Your original posting described the struggles of a charter school. You stated that charter schools “struggle with existing public schools, the teachers’ union, the TPS school board and so on.” From my perspective, you place blame where it was neither accurately placed, helpful for the argument you make on behalf of charters, nor necessary for charter schools to thrive. Charter schools do have a difficult time. Each has grown from the particular vision and conviction of its founders.

Tulsa’s charter schools certainly have there challenges. "Not only Do I teach here at Dove but I also have a child that attends Dove. Dove is a great school. The main problems are the parents always take their child s word for what is going on and immediately jump to conclusions. They are very aggressive towards the teachers. It no wonders that there are so many problems at the school. Look at the example that is before them at home. They (parents) show no support at all . . . . Gave it a chance and Dove is a great school. I know my child has succeeded here and yours can too." Parent Teacher

And .... "Doves test scores are high, but only a fraction of the students feel safe at dove. The teachers do not provide enough discipline, and whenever they do discipline, they do not distribute it equally. Students at the school do not feel safe." - CP 05

See, http://www.greatschools.net/modperl/parents/ok/2031

As for the sources you chose to focus upon . . . .

The “struggle with existing schools” is the very thing charter schools was intended to address. Charters offer new opportunities not available in public schools---whether it be in teaching style, class size, course offerings or the like. How can fulfilling this mandate be considered a struggle as you put it.

Your comments regarding union opposition seem inapposite. The opposition of the teacher’s union has been and remains at the state legislative level. The law is now on the books in Oklahoma. Charter schools are now approved and funded pursuant to that law. The union (whether it opposes charters or not) has no special place at the table in these decisions. So I don’t see how their political opposition has anything to do with the “struggle” charters here in Tulsa.

As for the Tulsa School Board, they have approved all but one application brought before it. The one not approved sought to blur the line between secular and parochial schools. State law prohibits the use of public funds for sectarian (religious) schools. If the law should be changed, change the law, but don’t blame TPS or its Board of Education for complying with it.

You refer to an “unofficial TPS campaign of misinformation” against your particular start up school. While I wasn’t a party to the conversations you refer to, you apparently got your charter (you refer to your involvement is a “charter school initial start up and three years of operation”). Could the “campaign” you refer to be the actual review and questioning of your application which is the responsibility of the local district? I certainly don’t know first hand, but so what? If you got your charter and operated for three years, so what? Was your school accredited? If it was a start up, why would it have been? Are all teachers hired by your school certified? Dove Science Academy was questioned this past summer for its admissions policy and whether it used impermissible criteria to weed out certain applicants. In response, it changed its application process. They may not have been “cherry picking” and neither may your school, but certainly questions about how you recruit or discipline are legitimate parts of the application review process.

Superintendent Sawyer’s position as you relate it is inaccurate. I have spoken directly with him on this topic. He stated that he would not recommend any further applications (after the Pentagon Academy) until a better application process and standards for review and approval were in place. Such is now the case. (See, TPS Board Policy No. 3407 -- http://www.tulsaschools.org/district/bp/3407.shtm ) As I watched the process, each existing charter school has had its charter renewed without any significant opposition. One (Dove Science Academy) is up for renewal in the next few months. That the district several years before had a particular application form for TSAS is irrelevant to whether the application may now have changed with this experience. This is not “stonewalling.”

Charter schools seek to use public funds. How would you propose to balance between the freedom these schools are suppose to represent and the responsible use of those funds? The approval and oversight scheme, as adopted by our legislators (and as you learned from the State Department of Education), rests with the local district. Where is the balance between responsible acquittal of this responsibility and the antagonism you describe (if it truly exists)? Surely a more helpful debate would be to define the proper balance.

As for the last grenade you lobbed at the Tulsa World, I can only suggest that I have read articles about Tulsa’s charter schools. Using a simple search of the World’s archives, I found several such articles. Let me ask you ... When was the last time you saw articles or stories about any of the three charter schools in any of the other local media—alternative newspapers, magazines, radio or TV. There have probably been a few, but, like the World, no more and no fewer than articles about particular public schools outside the sports pages. For the World, I hasten to suggest, it’s about newsworthiness and the ability to sell newspapers and not about some supposed conspiracy to protect TPS.

Finally, I would disagree with your contention that charter schools threaten the status quo of public schools. They (along with private schools) are both important components of choice for parents selecting the most appropriate opportunities for their children. Public schools and charter schools are alternatives, but not mutually exclusive ones. Perhaps the answer to your concerns lies in the make up of Oklahoma’s Charter School law.

Anonymous said...

Way to go Anne! Just because someone believes something, does not make it true. Thank you.

Red Bug said...

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, yet, you say, it's not a duck?!

Voiced opposition from the teachers union, inability to even get a charter school application form from the district, political malaise from the state level to improve the charter school act, a budget constraint axeing the charter school person at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (and not restored after current budget surpluses), revenue intentionally withheld by the district, district intentionally limiting enrollment (although charter allows for substantially more), etc. Like it or not, that is opposition.

You may be surprised to hear that I agree with many of your statements. Remember, I really have no axe to grind.

I do take exception with your statement, "The most dangerous part of the public debate is the assumption of either extreme as a premise for lobbing grenades." In your opinion I may be extreme and I may be lobbing grenades, but in the USA public debate and discourse is foundational to our republic. Thank you for sharing your opinions.