Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Some Schools Are More Equal than Others

You know, I'm happy for the kids at Renaissance Charter School. Why shouldn't I be? Though their school is new and untested (in all senses of the word), they certainly seem to have a lot going for them. I'm sure that their teachers are bright and dedicated, their parents hopeful, and their administration tough-minded but ambitious. Really. I'm not being sarcastic. I wish them all the best.

My opposition to charter schools isn't really opposition. I'm not opposed to their existence. Charter schools, as they were originally imagined, were meant to be lab schools that took on difficult challenges in education and aimed to serve historically underserved children and families in new ways. Charter school work was always going to be hard, and for the people who felt they could do it, all the best. The more I hear about charters, though, like that which I heard from an acquaintance of mine who quit her brand-new job at a charter school when she was told she'd have to paint her own classroom, the more I'm convinced that it's not for me, as I tend to draw the line on my working week at 50 or 60 hours. But anyway, no, I've never believed that charters, in and of themselves, are the problem.

The problem, as Michael Fiorillo and others point out, is that where we seem to be going with charters is a two-tier, separate and unequal school system. Kids in charter schools get three and four teachers to a class, as they do at Renaissance, or upscale snacks and lunches as they do at the Harlem Success schools. And God bless those children, they deserve it, every bit of it. But my question is simple: Don't all children deserve that, not just the lucky few in charter schools?

Teach for America's mission, lest we forget, is (was, perhaps) a simple one: One day, all children will receive an excellent education. You know what? That's a decent mission. What's not a decent mission is chronically expanding the mission of public schools while simultaneously shrinking their resources. What's not a decent mission is blaming public school teachers for not saving the world in their under-60-hour-work-week because we hope to be able to do this for many more years, not burn out in a few like most charter school teachers (sad to say, but true). What's not a decent mission is expecting us to be everything from social workers to parents to dieticians to nurses while still hoping we can somehow squeeze some teaching in there.

What's not decent is perpetuating, purposefully, in system in which only the lucky kids get the perks. Public education is supposed to change that, not let it go on. Some schools should not, in fact, be more equal than others.
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