Commentary

Education professor explains emptiness of for-profit charter takeover law

There’s a fine op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by Brian Gibbs, who is an associate professor in the Department of Education at UNC Chapel Hill. In it, Gibbs explains what North Carolina lawmakers should be doing if they’re serious about bringing “innovation” to struggling schools. Spoiler alert: It’s not turning them over to for-profit charter management companies as the current law allows. Here’s Gibbs:

The “innovations” that the charter companies will likely employ are innovations of budget and a more stringent focus on testing. In the increasingly pressured world of “successful” and “achieving” schools, evidence of success and achievement are almost universally moving the needle, ever so slightly, up in relation to test scores. The innovation in “innovation” districts likely also means that metaphorically, the conditions on the sinking ship that is the school(s) they are taking over are so desperate that they are allowed to “throw overboard” everything not found of value by the test. This includes health, social studies, art, music, PE as well as more artistic, creative, culturally sustaining pedagogies, or ways to teach, as well as students who may be found lacking….

Typically, takeovers like this move the needle a little due to the intense focus and often punitive nature of their approach to teaching. This is neither innovative nor what’s called for. What is called for is innovation that includes a heady mixture of imagination, creativity and energy. The teachers in these schools know their students. The students know and trust them. Community members, in particular the parents, have come together asking to participate in a democratic re-imagining with the state of North Carolina, but were not given enough lead time to fully gather and be heard.

Why can’t the state, if the situation is so dire that “innovation” is necessary, encourage innovation at the school-site level by taking away some restrictions on standard curricula and testing? Why not create the circumstances where teachers could innovate through shifting the school day, finding more time to develop teaching methods that are more connected to the needs of their students? Why not encourage the school to innovate, providing it the same leniency and leeway the state was willing to afford the charter company? It could be the beginning of a renewed community partnership.

This kind of innovation could lead to a democratic practice with a long and storied history called community schooling. This process allows voice to teachers, administrators, students, parents, community members and interested individuals. They are invited to take part in deep discussions about particular issues impacting the specific school these stakeholders are invested in. Glenn Elementary School was able to speak with one voice, as parents, teachers, students and school board members came together.

As Durham County school board chair Mike Lee said, “We will not allow this to define what our public schools are about. Get ready, because Durham is ready to fight.” May they fight on and may we win. Not just resistance to the Innovation District, but to gain the ability to engage in true innovation in our public schools.”

Click here to read the entire article.

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