Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Charter Schools Don't Work

Karran Harper-Royal spoke passionately about her experiences with the establishment of charter schools in her home city of New Orleans which largely followed Hurricane Katrina's rampage through the city.

KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) established many charter schools in and around her neighbourhoods. They label themselves as unprecedented successes, using dubiuos statistics to support this statement and pretending that they know what it takes to help children achieve their dreams. The unfortunate reality is anything but what they say it is: "Equal access for all children" (a reality that many in New Orleans helped establish during the US educational revolution of the 20th century) is unfortunately not the case anymore; schools can now "choose" to not accept certain kids, and these kids are then supposed to be able to "choose" another school to attend instead; albeit that the choices are failing schools which aren't able to cope with the special needs of these children.

K. Harper-Royal discussed the concept of philanthropic(/)capitalism, where those "philanthropists" who wish to "help" struggling students/schools do so on the premise that there will be a return on their (fairly substantial) investment. Since there must be a financial return, there must be a profit generated by the school and they must show that they are helping their students to achieve; often easy to show when you make up test results and don't adhere to national standardised testing (e.g. operating outside the National Curriculum). Don't believe the stats!

Experienced teachers are seen to be a risk at charter schools, not the asset that they actually are. Instead new, young and cheap teachers are valued by the schools, because they generally tow the line and avoid rocking the boat. How will this situation help our most vulnerable students?

What can we expect to see from charter schools? According to Royal-Harper, instability for communities and families, loss of voice for communities, difficulty rebuilding damaged communities (take note Christchurch!), disconnected children, privatised services and blighted schools. She sees our (teachers') challenge as educating people about what it takes to make schools successful; creating coalitions, getting political through social media groups (online) and connecting with New Orleans' parents.

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