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Saturday, July 02, 2016

I'm Not Ready to Give Up On Public Schools--Are You?

Learn the Facts about why we should not lift the cap.
Public schools are the backbone of this wonderful country we live in. The fact that every child has the opportunity to an education no matter what his/her economic class, culture, religion, race, sexual orientation, or beliefs is amazing. If we develop public education well, we will continue to build a dynamic nation.

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In Massachusetts right now, there is lots of talk about lifting the cap on charter schools. One of the arguments in favor of this is that so many students are on waiting lists for charter schools. I empathize with parents who desire good school experiences for their children, and I know that some charter schools are doing a great job.

I also know that many charter schools and the charter school movement have a weak, and questionable foundation. I wonder about who is making the money on charter schools and can charter schools sustain or even begin with good work. Many charter schools underpay and underserve their employees creating lots of turnover and less depth. Other charter schools teach students in ways that do not develop the kinds of deep, holistic, and broad minded citizens we need to continue the strength of our good country. And, charter schools further widen the gap between the have's and have-nots since parents in the know or connected families know how to gain access to these schools while less supported students are often left out thus creating schools of privilege and schools without privilege.

For a long time I sat on the "picket fence" with regard to charter schools because I know that public schools haven't always lived up to their potential for a large variety of political, process, and systematic issues. Yet, if we give away our public schools to a few decision makers rather than relying on the decision making of all people who vote and serve on public boards, I believe we'll give away the promise that our public schools hold for our democracy.

Lehmann and Chase say it well in their book, Building School 2.0, ". . .the fundamental purpose of public school--physical spaces dedicated to and people committed to educating a nation--is a good one." "In an age when segmentation of society keeps people apart from those who think, look, and live differently from how they do, schools bring us together to learn from and with one another." "As a nation we can imagine many different models for school, but the fundamental idea that we build places where all children can come together to learn remains one of the best ideas we've ever had as a society. We shouldn't lose it. We just have to make sure our schools reflect the time in which we live."

Lehmann and Chase's book outlines what a good school does, and they put their words into action day after day as they teach and learn in the tremendous Science Leadership Academy, a public charter school, in Philadelphia.

So as we approach a vote about lifting the cap, I say that we should not lift the cap and continue to work at building the strongest public school system in the nation--a public school system that mirrors the great values of our nation, a nation built on the direction towards "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all citizens.

Spend the money and time that would be spent on new charters on the public schools we have. Continue to make positive change including the following:
  • Make sure that every school in Massachusetts is a students-first school that empowers the learning team including students, families, educators, administrators, and community members to work together to serve every child well.
  • Empower educators in the classroom to lead and teach well by giving them the resources, time, and structure they need to do the job. 
  • Continue to utilize the excellent standards in the Massachusetts Educator Evaluation System as a backbone and foundation of good teaching and learning.
  • Invest in schools' infrastructure and resources so that every school in Massachusetts is inviting, welcoming, and an environment of updated learning and teaching.
  • Look at how every dollar is spent and make sure that almost all of the money is directed toward student service and development. Time-on-task with students matters and most of the money should be spent on students' direct care and education. Though we do need optimal leadership and research and development as well.
  • Continue to grow and develop the schools and utilize the great resources, organizations, intellect, and expertise that's everywhere in our state to develop our schools.

Massachusetts has had tremendous education leadership throughout my 30 years as an educator. I am amazed at what our Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does. I'm similarly proud to be a member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and the National Education Organization (NEA). States with strong teachers' unions have the best schools and that's because teachers have the support to speak up and do their work well rather than cower and fear advocacy for the most vulnerable students. The single most important reason why I am a union member is because my union protects my freedom to speak up about what I believe students need to learn well. Further, I am the recipient of countless supports via private industry including the recent Gates Education grant awarded to a team of public school educators to run an ECET2 in Massachusetts to foster a conversation about how we can better teach our most underserved students.

There is no one way to educate all students, but if we give our public schools away to private industry, we will give away the wonderful foundation our nation is built upon, a foundation that supports all people and believes that everyone has the potential to succeed and live a good life. (science is proving that true these days too). 

Please take the time this summer at the beach or by the pool, during a walk or at a picnic, to talk about this important vote coming up. Urge your family members to vote to support public schools rather than let our tax dollars be spent by private industry and organizations. We can bring the good ideas from private groups and organizations into our public schools--this is possible, but if we give them away, we'll have little to work with in the years ahead and this is a scary proposition--one that has potential to weaken the dynamic country we live in.