Posts tagged ‘fairness’

January 14, 2016

Support Fair Funding for ALL Baltimore City Public School Students

Dear Readers of Re:education in Baltimore:

Nine charter school operators representing 14 of the more than 30 public charter schools in Baltimore City are suing for more money. We know they already get more. A new grassroots advocacy group of Baltimore City Public School parents and supporters called People for Public Schools compared a traditional and a charter of similar size and demographics. Charters have a clear advantage: more staff, more teachers, lower student-teacher ratios, more academic coaches and after-school activities – and they can carry surplus money over from year to year. If these charters win, they all will get more. And traditional schools will get even less. I think that’s wrong. I think fair and equitable funding is right. I think ensuring the sustainability of the public school system is right. I think decisions about budgets that have an impact on all our children should be made in public. If you agree, sign here:

May 23, 2014

Thank you, transformative Baltimore principals!

Thank you for saying this:

“There is widespread belief among teachers and principals that traditional public schools are subsidizing charters. This should trouble parents in traditional schools, especially parents helping school family councils make ends meet during budget season. It should trouble responsible charter parents and staff who do not want to succeed at the expense of children attending a traditional school. Each charter should reflect on its budget, then review the budget of a nearby traditional school — and vice versa — and discern the reasons for the disparity. The Baltimore City Public School System needs budget transparency and an honest conversation about how much it takes to run a great school.”

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-school-funding-20140522,0,6687049.story#ixzz32XKlYSyu

March 4, 2013

Wealth Inequality in America [Video]

This is why every American who makes a middle class living should care about millionaires’ and billionaires’ dabbling in education reform. Why sequestration is hogwash. Why anyone who tells you there is no money for school buildings or public school teachers or health care or medical benefits is full of it. There is more than enough to go around.

Commence reality check.

January 16, 2012

My Kids Are Too Good for Public School, and Other Messages I Wish Wealthy Parents Wouldn’t Telegraph

My K-6 alma mater

This post was inspired by two pieces – one local, one not – published January 13. Tell me if you don’t see a connection:

1) “Sending Kids to City Schools Still a Concern,” a feature story by Adam Bednar for North Baltimore Patch, and

2) “America’s Dangerously Removed Elite,” an opinion by David Sirota for Salon.com

Read the Baltimore story and you’ll notice a heavy focus on efforts to ameliorate concerns among parents in Mount Washington and Charles Village about the neighborhood public schools. But the narrative begins and ends with the story of one family, the Balchunas, who were priced out of Howard County and bought a home zoned for Roland Park Elementary/Middle School instead.

Like most parents who shop for homes after they have kids, the quality of the neighborhood was a big factor in their purchase.* Despite being zoned for one of the most coveted grade schools in Baltimore, however, the Balchunas are still “wrestling” with their options, to use Bednar’s word. They have submitted an application to the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School, and they could extend their child’s stay at New Century, where their eldest daughter is in pre-kindergarten. Bednar quotes the mom:

“I want to use Roland Park Elementary, but I’m worried it won’t be able to accommodate where my daughter is intellectually,” Balchunas said.

Oof.

Before I go Talmudic in my interpretation of this one quote, I want readers to keep this caveat in mind: The way Bednar couches it, this mom’s statement doesn’t do much to win her any friends. The word “accommodate” in an education context usually rides alongside the words “special needs.” But that’s not what is meant here. The ring of superiority in the second clause rubbed at least one RPEMS mom-acquaintance of mine way wrong. (At least on Facebook.)

To give the message a little more context, New Century is a Montessori-inspired preschool which, according to the school website, offers “complete language immersion in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese for the toddler classes.” If that’s a parent’s ideal, it’s a safe assumption that the academic program at RPEMS would be a step down. And, to be fair, worrying that a public school is below our children’s intellectual par is something all parents of a certain class do. We’ve been trained to think private equals better. More to the point, we believe our children are really, really bright. You can’t fault Balchunas for believing that. It’s a great thing to believe about one’s own child, which is why almost every other parent I know believes the same thing.

So I hesitate to dismiss Balchunas. I would love to meet her. (In fact, I’m trying to.) She was brave to talk to the press. She’s obviously a good mom. She’s putting her kids first in every decision her family makes.

What jumped out at me about the quote, as Bednar reported it, was the use of the word “use.” “I want to use Roland Park Elementary,” Balchunas says.

Use?

Now the Talmud Torah opens its doors. At the risk of sounding like a pedant, I went to school. (The school I attended through sixth grade was a yeshiva, actually.) I will send my child to school. I want to find him a school he can go to, a school he can walk to. A school is a place, not a thing. It contextualizes a certain kind of activity – namely, learning. That a parent would talk about wanting to “use” her public school – well, that’s how we talk about the public bus, or the city pool. What does it say when parents who can afford a private institution start talking about public ones the way we talk about what is, in Baltimore, the lousiest mode of transportation? The cheapest way to cool off? There goes the neighborhood (by car). And the country with it.

Which leads me to story number 2.

David Sirota’s wrath at the nation’s “dangerously removed elite” – which he trains mainly on Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and New Jersey governor Chris Christie – comes in reaction to an outcry over the school and home purchase choices of Tom Boasberg, the public school superintendent of Denver, Colo., where, I am led to infer, Sirota lives. Like the president himself, none of these political uber-men sends his children to an urban public school. Denver’s superintendent sends his children to school in Boulder, “one of America’s wealthiest enclaves.” Emanuel and Christie don’t send their children to public school at all.

Before he gets to Emanuel and Christie, Sirota rails against Boasberg thusly:

“From the confines of his distant castle in Boulder, he issues edicts to his low-income fiefdom — decrees demonizing teachers, shutting down neighborhood schools over community objections and promoting privately administered charter schools. Meanwhile, he makes sure his own royal family is insulated in a wealthy district that doesn’t experience his destructive policies.”

This story fits neatly into the narrative that Occupy Wall Street (thankfully) shot into the national consciousness. We are a society that is not just divided but split in two. Sirota writes,

“there really are ‘Two Americas,’ as the saying goes — and that’s no accident. It’s the result of a permanent elite that is removing itself from the rest of the nation. Nowhere is this more obvious than in education — a realm in which this elite physically separates itself from us mere serfs.”

I should say right now that I was raised to take my place among the elite. I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I was schooled through sixth grade at Ramaz – a Jewish house of learning that is by its very nature exclusive – where half the day was spent on Hebrew and Judaic studies and the other half on social studies, math, sciences and language arts, with art class, chorus, gym and recess to boot. By Grade 4, I enjoyed an 8-hour school day. It was rigorous. The English Language Learners spoke Hebrew, so they mopped the floor with the rest of us for half the day. I didn’t have to think about poor people, or black people – unless you count the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia. (Though my outstanding fifth- and sixth-grade Language Arts teacher, Mr. Sandomir, a Queens College graduate who is still teaching, once handed me a fat, worn copy of John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom. That’s a moment I often remember, not only on Martin Luther King Day.)

From there, I went to what is arguably the finest independent school in the country, Horace Mann School. Nearly every one of my teachers had a master’s from Teachers College. I learned with African-American and Hispanic and Latino kids for the first time. I also met super rich kids. One named Jordan lived in the Pierre when his parents’ home was being renovated. Another named James played banjo, wore torn jeans and Birkenstocks, and managed my soccer team sophomore year – something students did to get out of gym. He drove me home once (he didn’t take the bus) in a used red Jeep Wrangler with a Steal Your Face sticker on the back window. His last name was Murdoch. I went to bar mitzvahs at the Helmsley Palace and Tavern on the Green. Central Park was my front yard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – where I think you can still get in for a penny donation – was where I’d hang out on rainy weekends.

Of course someone like me is going to think public schools aren’t good enough, especially when confronted daily with stories of our failing school system. But when you’re part of shaping education policy, you should have to answer for it. That’s one of Sirota’s big gripes:

“In many cases, these aristocrats aren’t even required to publicly explain themselves. (Boasberg, for example, is never hounded by local media about why he refuses to live in Denver.) Worse, on the rare occasions that questions are posed, privacy is the oft-used excuse to not answer, whether it’s Obama defenders dismissing queries about their Sidwell decision, Christie telling a voter his school choices are ‘none of your business’ or Emanuel storming out of a television interview and then citing his ‘private life’ when asked about the issue.

This might be a convincing argument about ordinary citizens’ personal education choices, but it’s an insult coming from public officials. …Pretending this is acceptable or just a ‘private’ decision, then, is to tolerate ancient, ruling-class notions that are no longer sustainable in the 21st century. …”

I would go a step further than Sirota. First off, political leaders are ordinary citizens. Second, ordinary citizens’ personal education choices are public choices, even when those citizens aren’t brave enough to talk about those choices to the local press.

Our decisions as “parents of choice” – as we are labeled by North Avenue – about what neighborhoods to live in and whom to let our children learn with have public effects. If my husband and I choose to send our son to an expensive private school, or to send him to a boutique charter school, or to make the local public school a top choice – those choices get in everybody’s business. That may be especially true in a small town like Baltimore. But it’s no less true in Chicago or New York City or Washington, D.C. We – all of us ordinary citizens with children – can’t say we want our children to grow up in a more just world, one that is more equal, more tolerant, more sustainable, if we keep making choices that reproduce the status quo.

The places Americans create for learning reflect who we are as a people. They shape who our children will become and the context in which they will live. No place more accurately embodies the world we are making for our children than the neighborhood public school. So maybe it’s time for parents who can afford better to stop asking whether they can use the public schools, and start asking how our public schools can use them.

***

For more on the topic of wealthy public figures excluding themselves from the school communities most affected by their policies, see “The Best Posts About Public Officials (& Non-Elected ‘Reformers’) Sending Their Children To Private Schools” on Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day. For more video showing how Emanuel and Christie have fielded kids’ schooling questions, watch this. As always, comments are welcome.

July 12, 2011

A Taste of Cherry Picking

Michael Winerip’s piece in the New York Times this Sunday, “Message From a Charter School: Thrive or Transfer,” tells the story of a mother whose bright but sometimes unruly son – age 5 – was counseled out of Harlem Success Academy 3. He was placed in Public School 75, where he is “thriving.”

Matthew’s story raises perhaps the most critical question in the debate about charter schools: do they cherry-pick students, if not by gaming the admissions process, then by counseling out children who might be more expensive or difficult to educate — and who could bring down their test scores, graduation rates and safety records?

This story plays right into the hands of the education reform backlash because it points to a very real difference between charter schools and public schools – the difference between schools that are exclusive and those that are inclusive. It’s exclusivity, if that’s the right word, that is part of charter schools’ appeal to parents who worry about the effects of sending their children to the default school – the one that’s open to everyone (or, rather, anyone) in a delineated area on a city map.

Of course charter schools filter. That’s why they’re perceived to have better climates than regular public schools. And it’s the climate – not test scores or teacher quality or track records – that leads to oversubscription, and the lotteries that make getting into a charter school seem like more of a treat than it might prove itself to be.

Exclusive versus inclusive is one way to frame the difference between charters and “traditional” publics. But it’s not the only lesson to be gleaned from this story.

Another is the lesson of the benefits of individual attention. While statistics might show that Harlem Success Academy – a chain of schools – raises performance levels on tests of reading and math, each child is unique. Some cherries are bigger than others. Some riper. Some slower to mature. Some easier to bruise and faster to spoil.

One size does not fit all. 

That’s an argument for differentiating instruction within a classroom. Whether or not it’s a winning argument for public school choice – the turning of public school systems into a marketplace of schools representing an array of educational philosophies – is a separate question.

Related Posts

Notes from a Charter School Lottery

Lessons from the Bronx

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Baltimore City Charter Schools

May 25, 2011

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Baltimore City Charter Schools

Someone stumbled upon this blog the other day by Googling the words “i want to make my own charter school.” I’m sure the Googler didn’t find this site of much use. This post is my attempt to make that search worthwhile if it’s ever repeated. Here are two handfuls of info that this curious Baltimore City mom has come to learn over the course of the last 18 months.

1 Baltimore City’s charter schools are part of the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS). They are run by nonprofit boards with 501(c)(3) status. They are all not for profit and tuition free.

2 There is no legal cap on the number of charter schools that can open and operate in Baltimore City. As of this posting, 34 of Maryland’s 44 charter schools are in Baltimore City. There were 12 charter schools in Baltimore City in 2005-06. There are around 200 Baltimore City public schools. The percentage jump in the proportion of charter schools over the last five years reflects the exponential growth formula being pushed by the Progressive Policy Institute, with support from the Walton Family Foundation. See http://www.progressivefix.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/2.2011_Hassel_Going-Exponential_WEB1.pdf

3 Charter school students are required to take standardized tests. Charter schools administer the same high stakes tests that all other public schools in Baltimore City administer. Test results are used to keep schools accountable for students’ academic progress, particularly in math and reading.

4 Baltimore City charter school teachers are bound to union contracts. Maryland is one of the few states in which that is the case. Some people would like to see that change. The Baltimore Teacher’s Union recently came into conflict with KIPP’s demands for a 9.5 hour school day and summer classes. The union and KIPP negotiated an agreement in March 2011 that will keep KIPP in Baltimore for the next 10 years.

5 Enrollment is open to students citywide. This stands in contrast to what BCPSS and the charter movement call “traditional” schools, which give priority to students who live within a zoned neighborhood.

6 If the number of applications to a given charter school is greater than the number of available slots, the school holds a public lottery. The names that are not chosen are placed on a waiting list for that year. The list does not roll over to the following school year.

7 Many charter schools do not offer pre-kindergarten because of state mandates on PK enrollment. Charter schools that offer PK must give priority for PK enrollment to students with need (i.e., homeless students, students living in poverty, students who need Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), students from military families).

8 Charter schools set their own enrollment restrictions regarding priority for the children of founders and staff and the siblings of current students. Whether the sibling of an enrolled student can attend without being subject to the lottery is up to the governing board of the charter school. Up to ten percent of students in a charter school can be the children of founders. The definition of a founder is determined by the governing board of the charter school. These points are significant because the more enrollment exceptions and restrictions, the fewer slots there are for students from the “random” citywide pool of applicants.

9 If you want to send your child to a charter school, you must complete and submit an application by the stated deadline. Each charter school has a separate application process. There is no limit on the number of charter schools to which one student may apply. If the deadline is missed but there are still spaces in the next year’s class, the application will be accepted and the student permitted to enroll. It is up to the parent or guardian to obtain and complete applications.

10 Charter schools are supposed to receive the same per pupil funding as “traditional” public schools. For various reasons, it’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison of cost per pupil at charter schools versus neighborhood schools. The FY12 BCPSS budget – released only a few days ago – allocates more than $4,000 more per pupil for students in charter schools than in neighborhood schools. (The Sun’s InsideEd blog attempted to make sense of that yesterday.) One major difference is that neighborhood schools receive in services what charter schools receive in cash. Unused services cannot be rolled into the following year’s budget, while unused cash can. But the question of fairness has yet to be answered.

I want this blog to be – among other things – a source of valid and useful information for parents who are trying to make informed choices and Baltimore residents who want to understand what’s at stake when it comes to education reform in Baltimore City. If you have questions or corrections please let me know by posting a comment. If you would rather that your comment not go public, let me know that, too.

SOURCES:

BCPSS Charter School Report 2005-06 to 2007-08 School Years, April 16, 2009 (doc)

Maryland Charter School Law 2003 (link)

Maryland State Board of Education Charter School Program Policy (PDF)

Maryland Charter Schools Founders’ Manual, Third Edition (PDF)

People for Public Schools

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