science education

Are charter schools the answer to science education deadwood?

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John Stossel

John Stossel thinks so:

I visited another charter chain, American Indian Public Charter Schools in Oakland, Calif., that gets similar top results, also at lower cost.

“Kids in American Indian Public Charter Schools score so far above the average for the state for public school children that there isn’t even a word for it,” says Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

Those schools use methods different from the charters in Harlem. For example, they pay some kids to tutor other kids.

Both charters do something that regular public schools rarely do: fire teachers. One charter principal calls it “freeing up a person’s future.” (“Exciting Schools” Townhall , September 21, 2011)

Of course, part of this success story is simply the no-more-excuses effect. A friend from the Caribbean told me once that [such-and-such] a school problem was not significant in her island home country because “Down there you can’t get way with acting out in class, just by saying, I’m black.” No. I bet not. That would be like saying “I have two eyes and a nose …”

Charter schools are not better than others in principle, but they do what motivated parents want them to do. The sort of parents who would go to the trouble of enrolling their children probably also enforce homework and provide peers who have interests, not addictions. In education, success occurs in a matrix, and so does failure.

But success might endanger the charter school movement. Not a reason to hang back, but just a caution: The success we are seeing is created by the removal of obstacles. Put another way, students can learn about as well as they did in 1940 when we remove the obstacles built up in the meantime.

But it takes eternal vigilance to keep those obstacles out. For example: Packaged curricula save teachers time – but often contain many questionable hidden assumptions. It’s no use teaching students to monitor and control their behaviour when the psych curriculum makes explicit that they are not responsible for it. The study of history teaches us little about the wellsprings of human motivation if history is presented as one long whine of victimhood – or a steamrolling juggernaut of a nation’s progress. And a charter school may not have anyone with a thorough enough knowledge of a discipline to choose materials wisely, so buying the package is a temptation.

There is another problem as well: Right now, just freeing up teachers and parents to be effective is an immense victory, whose results we see.

Just think: At a charter school, you could talk about the strengths and weaknesses of known mechanisms of evolution without a single pinch of incense on the altar of Darwin. Darwin is only one of the many cults we could banish from the schoolroom. Science would be about evidence again, not about state-enforced bunk.

However, all this depends on a vision. When any movement, like charter schools, succeeds, it attracts people who don’t have the original vision, who get on board for less attractive reasons. The mother who is tired of getting calls from the truancy officer might send her child to the charter school because it doesn’t have a truancy officer. (Because it never needed one until she and others like her started sending their children …)

And the school may need her (and those others’) directed tax support,  to continue. At this point, the charter school is half way down the road to becoming the institution the original charter school parents walked out of. Eternal vigilance … .

Historical footnote: Contrary to widespread belief, fuelled by opponents, charter schools were originally a left-wing movement. Apart from political conviction, they were driven by the frustrations of parents of children who had learning difficulties that were not effectively addressed by three inches of paper. It spread out from there to encompass a wide variety of people who realized that three inches of paper were not an answer to any problem their kids had..

4 Replies to “Are charter schools the answer to science education deadwood?

  1. 1
    ScottAndrews says:

    We don’t need special schools for students who want to learn. That’s absurd. Why wouldn’t all schools be that way?

    We need special schools for students who don’t want to learn, who want to disrupt education and assault fellow students. Send them to another school that will do the best it can with lesser expectations. Just keep them out of the ‘standard’ schools. Sadly, if they don’t change their ways they may become tomorrow’s burger flippers and janitors. But punishing students who just want to learn should not be an option.

    Any school I know of would send a student home immediately if they arrived with a shirt or shoes. It doesn’t matter if it’s the parent’s fault. Similarly, if a parent does not teach their child to at least listen respectfully and behave properly then send them out too.

    A school cannot be both an educator for those who wish to learn and a prison for those who do not, with both populations mingling.

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington says:

    “Charter schools are not better than others in principle, but they do what motivated parents want them to do. The sort of parents who would go to the trouble of enrolling their children probably also enforce homework and provide peers who have interests, not addictions.”

    I started a charter school in 1994, and I can tell you that what you say is true. There are two keys to educational success: High expectations and parental support.

    If you have those, you will succeed. If either is missing, I don’t care how much money you through at the school, performance will suffer.

  3. 3
    uoflcard says:

    Scott, I stated this more extensively in the other recent science/education topic, but I don’t think the problem is students who want to learn not getting the opportunity to due to distractions from “bad” students. I went to a public high school with 2,000 students, a large portion of which did not give a flip about their education and were disruptive in their classes, got in fights, etc. But while I was on the same campus as them, we never had classes together and they never affected my education even a little bit. The problem is that there aren’t that many kids who want to learn. They simply do not care, and they value many other things over learning (sports, music, TV, video games, popularity, sex, drugs, etc.). That is not just the “really bad” students who are getting in fights and cussing out teachers, but kids in average and advanced classes who just “get by” in school

    That’s just my opinion, of course

  4. 4
    ScottAndrews says:

    uoflcard,

    But while I was on the same campus as them, we never had classes together and they never affected my education even a little bit.

    But someone had to have classes with them and be affected by them.

    I agree 100% with you, lack of interest in learning has a huge impact. Teachers can stimulate it but they are often fighting against the current. Perhaps my pet peeve has a smaller overall impact.

    I’m guessing at this number, but I’d say a young person is at least 20 times more likely to be physically assaulted in school than at a shopping mall or grocery store. Administrators turn a blind eye to or mildly chastise behavior for which they would call the police if it happened to themselves or their child. And then, for irony, they put Lord of the Flies on the reading list.

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