Sunday, June 28, 2009

On the one hand, when the charter schools are good, they're good...especially when a school system has been down for so long, damn near anything looks like a light at the end of a long tunnel:
On average, Louisiana's charter schools outperform traditional schools in both reading and math, according to one of the most comprehensive studies of charter school performance nationally...

...Raymond added that the results vary considerably among states, with Louisiana's charter schools posting one of the stronger performances. In Louisiana, the report looked at the math and reading results of 34,479 charter school students from 52 charter schools between the years of 2001 and 2008.

The researchers matched charter students to noncharter students based on such factors as family income, starting test scores, and special education status, creating what they called "virtual twins." Using student-level data, they then tracked the test score growth of charter school students compared with their "twin" -- really the aggregate of all comparable students -- in the traditional schools...

...The study also noted that charters tended to outperform traditional schools in states where overall student performance remains low, such as Louisiana.

In states where school quality lags generally, there's "a pattern that you are going to have a more vibrant charter school sector, " Raymond said.

She added that in New Orleans, specifically, charter leaders had an advantage in that after Katrina there was such a strong national outreach to bring successful charter school models and support structures to the city.

"I wouldn't call it an aberration so much as a strong point of evidence on what's possible, " she said.

What happens, though, when the light at the end of the tunnel is more like an oncoming train? Let's see what's possible then:
In creating Schwarz Alternative School, the Recovery School District faced one of the toughest jobs in American schooling: to teach and minister to the neediest students in one of the nation's poorest and most violent cities. Many arrived with criminal histories. Nearly all had been expelled from other schools.

To this task, district leaders assigned a cast of rookie teachers and a company with revolving local leadership. The system housed the faculty and students in a crumbling, termite-infested building with spotty air conditioning, few supplies and a single full-time social worker for at times more than 300 students, four Schwarz teachers said.

To maintain control, the private management company, Camelot Schools, fielded its own security force. They were typically large men -- some of whom regularly slammed students into floors and walls for defiant behavior, according to accounts from six students, a youth advocate who regularly visited the school, a former Camelot staffer and two Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judges...

..."In neglecting Schwarz, I feel that the powers-that-be were essentially saying to the kids: 'You had your chance and you blew it,'" said Mitra Jalali, a Teach For America instructor who taught at Schwarz last year. "In a merit-based system, maybe our kids aren't the most deserving. But in a needs-based system, they deserve the most."

Charter schools are not the absolute answer to everybody's education problems. The Stanford study found that nationwide, the charters actually perform slightly worse than the traditional schools. This calls for more than a generalized, namby-pamby urging for greater "quality control" for the charters. It calls for far more than Paul Vallas backing up what has happened at Schwarz as being "a pretty good job, all things considered". It calls for more than bringing in teachers with very little experience and throwing them into a situation where they are doomed to fail.

It calls for seeing kids and teachers as more than cogs in some giant for-profit, for-statistics machines.

Teaching is a profession.

How we treat our children is how we treat our future.

It's not looking too good.

1 comment:

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Until the worst behavior managment and special education students in Orleans are treated as serious divisions of the local education system, these problems will continue.

But, wait, let's talk about "experienced teachers vs. new teachers" again for a while, and not the actual system they all work for. Say it together now: "It's the teacher's fault."