First off, I am glad to see that people in Chicago are taking my advice, and looking into placing their children in either a charter school or a private school. The shame is that the charter schools in Chicago are not only full, they have a waiting list of almost 19,000 students. The reason that there are not enough charter schools is that they must fight against the teachers’ unions for their survival. If anything evidences that teachers are not all about the children, the animus against charter schools is it.
The main bone of contention against charter schools is that they siphon off the best students, leaving the public school teachers to have to deal with the most troubled children. That doesn’t sound like an argument in favor of the children; that sounds a lot like a pity party for the teachers. If the teachers have fewer children to deal with, even if those children are the worst of the worst, that situation in and of itself should make life easier for the teachers. But the problem seems to be accountability: allowing charter schools to siphon off the better performers means that the public school teachers don’t have those good students to raise test scores, and that makes the teachers look like they don’t know what they’re doing.
I understand. It’s a flawed system, no matter how you look at it. Holding teachers accountable for all the woes in the world saps their motivation, and can make them resentful against those students who are directly affecting their pay. But the answer is not to trap students who have an alternative into sharing the misery. That is not my concept of doing what is best for the children. That is my concept of doing what is best for the teachers.
If all of the best students were siphoned off—and I’m not buying that argument in the first place—the teachers who were left with the at-risk students might then be able to institute some real reforms for those lost souls who were left behind. Right now, the results are skewed: some students do very well, regardless of where they are placed, some students benefit from teacher assistance, and some students simply don’t take to the whole school atmosphere.
If the teachers were all about the welfare of the children, you’d think they would say to charter schools, private schools, homeschoolers, “Go ahead. Remove those achieving students. Give them the accelerated classes that will help them fulfill their potential. After all, anyone can teach a gifted student. All you have to do is show them how to find the material, then get out of their way. It’s us in the trenches, with the at-risk kids, the children who haven’t had a decent meal in a week, the students who hadn’t even seen a book till they got to class the first day, the ones who are up half the night dealing with a sick or abusive parent—those are the children I came to teach, because those are the children who really need me.”
Then the teachers would be acting from a position of power, and could effect real change. They would be able to re-design the learning curve rubric to reflect real students, not some amalgam of those who were brought up with all the advantages combined with those who began their schooling with nothing.
But because the teachers elect to entrench themselves in the current system, fighting accountability instead of embracing it as it should be applied, all their claims about doing it for the children are shown to be lies. They clutch and grab the better students against those students’ wills, to artificially raise test scores, so that the teachers look good. They resist the very idea of accountability, because their salaries are dependent upon improvement that the lesser students simply may not be capable of. In every aspect, the teachers are pitting themselves against the students, instead of attempting to help them.
The teachers don’t even have to come up with a solution. There is an alternative already out there: the charter school system. The charter schools are newer, smaller, able to select their students to fit the schools’ agenda. None of these things are bad. They can be, in fact, the public teachers’ best friends, if the teachers will simply stop fighting them, and allow them to do their work, which is to experiment.
The charter schools have an opportunity to do what most public schools cannot afford to do: test out new theories and methods on those students best suited to be able to shrug off failed experiments. What an opportunity for public school teachers! The charter schools do all the brainstorming, spend the time and money implementing new ideas, demonstrate which concepts work and which do not, and the public schools are free at the end of the experiment to implement successful methods into their own teaching, without having to go through that risky experimental phase. It’s like having their own R&D department!
So, public school teachers, go on strike if you must, resist accountability if you will, tell everyone that you are professionals, whose only motivation is to help the students, but we all know that for the lie that it is. Until you are willing to change your tune, until you are willing to allow students the opportunity to reach their highest potential, until you show that you are committed to helping those who need you the most, say what you will—we don’t believe it.
We understand that right now your hands are tied, that you are tasked with an impossible mission. But things will not change, cannot change, until you step out from behind all of the rhetoric, and demand real reform for your students. Let the charter schools have the good students. Let the private schools snag the best and the brightest. Allow your true skills to shine in the trenches with those left behind—the students who don’t even realize how much they need you. Stop saying that you are doing it all for the students, until you really are.