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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

What are the top 5 barriers for public schools to perform like successful charter schools?

What are the top 5 barriers for public schools to perform like successful charter schools?

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I often here that charter schools have a lot of advantages over public schools and "that won't work here". What do you consider the top 5 barriers for public schools to perform like successful charter schools?

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Shaq's picture

First of all, I personally oppose both charter schools and vouchers-as neither one solves the underlying problem of the failing US educational system-a lack of having a culture that values education.

1. Public schools(overall) neither well-train nor well-compensate teachers(although teaching is the one profession that creates all others). Take Finland, for example-
Well Trained-only 10% of all teaching applicants are accepted and those that are must obtain a master's degree in the subject that he or she wishes to teach(this involves on-the-job training)

Well-Compensated-Teacher salaries in Finland are about the same as in the U.S.(48k yearly). Although Finnish politicians don't think about cutting teacher pay or implementing merit pay.

Respect-Teaching is a respected and honored position in Finland. Those who do teach are given the Finnish national curriculum(universal curriculum, unlike in U.S.) as a blueprint, not a guide(like in the U.S.). Teachers have autonomy and flexibility in developing their lesson plans.

Ex: Compare teachers to doctors-would you want just any doctor operating on you, or would want only the most well-trained doctors operating on you?Furthermore, doctors are well-compensated for their work-average plastic surgeon salary in California-4mil, but noone is complaining about 4mil,they're complaining about the 48k teachers make. Finally, since the qualifications are rigorous to become a doctor, those who do become one are given autonomy and flexibility in their work while being held to a high moral standard.

-Summary:
Teaching has to be approached the same way doctors are-all teachers must be well-trained,well-compensated, and above all, respected.

2.What occurs outside the school-Public schools present major U.S. problems(all of which MUST BE ELIMINATED before any change inside public schools can occur if public schools are to be anywhere near as good as charter schools or private schools): Gangs, War on Drugs, Poverty, Health Care issues, massive illegal immigration(which creates a language barrier), gun violence( a zero-tolerance gun control policy which excludes felons, domestic abusers, and those with mental health issues would cut down on gun violence on school grounds.

3. What occurs inside the school-students: Dealing with tracking,gifted education, and the NCLB Act. Also, public schools are funded mainly by property taxes:PROBLEMS

-Property taxes are inherently unequal. The more affluent the neighborhood, the more property taxes they pay, the more funding their schools receive, the poorer the community->lower house values->lower property taxes-> Thus, the poorer students in poorer communities do not receive the same quality of education and access to resources as do students from affluent families. The reality of the situation is that distribution of resources for schools is based on the socioeconomic status of the parents of the students. As a result-the U.S. educational system SIGNIFICANTLY AIDS IN WIDENING THE GAP BETWEEN THE RICH AND POOR.
Solution: Funding must be provided for on a per pupil basis and adjusted for living expenses:
y=12,000x+12,000
y=funding for school community x=# of students y-intercept=price ceiling on difference of living expenses:this would eliminate the inequalities of spending between different educational districts.
-Class size: Class size does affect student performance-smaller class sizes->for teachers: more individualized attention can be spent on students who show academic trouble->for students, its a chance to better know their peers/classmates.

4.Student's innate intelligence:Different people learn different things differently. Also, not everyone who's going to college is going to be a doctor or lawyer, furthermore, not everyone is going to college(everyone has something valuable to contribute to society, and that something doesn't always involve a bachelor's degree).
-Public high schools are comprehensive(include both academic and vocational courses). This is unique compare to many other industrialized nations-who have it separate. I don't believe comprehensive schools should be eliminated(for they allow students to figure out what they enjoy in high school instead of receiving a label,but I do believe we need to seriously develop our vocational system: it'll allow many students who have valuable vocational skills that are wasted because their environment(school system) dictates that everyone should go to college.

5. America's attitude toward education. Education is the single most beneficial societal mechanism that the United States has up its sleeves. With a superb public educational system, poverty and gangs wouldn't be running rampant. We wouldn't be facing overcrowded prisons, high crime rates, gun violence on school grounds, or politicians who get elected for promising to improve public schools and then turn around don't(by either cutting funding-aka RAISING TUITION or increasing class sizes). Most of all, with a superb public educational system, there would be no need for merit pay, vouchers, charter schools, or even private schools for that matter.

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Jackie, thank you for your feedback. I respectfully disagree about "Let's be fair and hold all schools ... accountable." There is a lot of discussion in other questions and outside Edutopia that the quantity of testing IS the problem.

I agree that you need ways to measure progress, but that does not have to be state standards. State standards are not necessarily the best measure of intelligence and success.

What I hear you saying is "let's hamper the charter schools with all the burdens and hurdles we have because its fair." That is like saying "let's bog down the networks of schools that have good network connections so that they are on the same playing field as the schools with bad networks." Isn't the right answer to look at the differences and focus on the ones with bad networks. Use those differences to fix the problem rather than try to bring everything down to the same lowest common denominator. Shouldn't we try to remove those hurdles from public schools rather than try to add hurdles to charters?

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

There were a few comments suggesting that charters have an advantage because they can pick their students and don't have to pass the same tests. There are examples of successful charter schools who share these burdens. The KIPP school in Austin is one. They get some public funding and are required to do all the same testing and can not "pick" their students; however, they are more successful than most other schools in the area. On top of that, they apparently do it more efficiently because they are in less of a financial crunch. Yes, many charter schools are successful and/or not good comparisons, but in this case, it is a more level playing field and they are clearly doing something better. Rather than complain about the playing field, can we leverage what makes a positive difference?

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Shaq, thank you for your comments and perspective. You bring up many good points.

Regarding your second point, that is a dangerous statement. You mention several things like gangs and drugs that must be eliminated before change can be made to schools. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I think you have it reversed. It is education which will help reduce those issues. If you are going to wait for gangs and poverty to go away before changing schools, then shut down the schools now because the battle is lost.

Also, your points related to money are valid, but is money really the issue? I don't have the stats here, but the amount of money going to schools has increased substantially in the past 30 years, but the results have actually gone down. If people to believe teachers will teacher "better" if they get paid more, teachers should be insulted. Also, there are examples of very successful schools that do well with the limited resources they have.

That said, I could not agree more with your last two points! Thank you.

Peter Smyth's picture
Peter Smyth
Retired teacher and administrator

Discussion always seem to include the idea that money is not the issue because we spend more today and get less than we did, say 30 years ago. We do spend more, but schools do more today than they did 30 years ago. They must meet the needs of more kids with special needs; they provide more remedial and gifted programs; they have embraced technology by necessity and choice; they test more (not a good thing, but not free); on on and on.
Some charters can operate with less money. They can hire cheaper (less experienced or below their credentials) teachers; they can draw on volunteers.
True, teachers really won't suddenly teach better for more money. But the low salaries have an impact on who enters the profession. And reducing benefits and pension programs will do the same and negatively impact retaining teachers. We have for a long time had good teachers not by merit pay but by providing a stable, reasonably comfortable financial package so they could be full time teachers.

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Peter, all good points. I could not agree more that schools do more today. So, rather than trying to find no-existent money, perhaps the discussion should be on reducing the demands on schools. More importantly, let's prioritize the demands. All that schools teach is not important, but some things have more value than others for the end goals. (Incidentally, cutting arts and music is NOT the answer either.)

Regarding "cheaper teachers": while that may be true for some, that is not true for several successful charter schools to which I can point.

Also, "they can draw on volunteers"? Why can't public schools draw on volunteers? In fact, I have posted elsewhere how I have experienced public schools being very unopen to volunteers except in limited capacities, such as in PTAs.

Regarding the impact of low salaries. Money is not the reason people I know have joined and left the teaching profession. Those who left did so because they were stifled and burdened with too much. 20% higher salaries will not make a significant impact. If you want 30% more or higher, I'd love to know where you will ever find that money. To my first comment, decrease the burden on teachers (and schools) rather than increase pay.

Peter Smyth's picture
Peter Smyth
Retired teacher and administrator

On the volunteer issue, darters, magnets, and sme traditional schools bring more active parent with the kids. Volunteers become part of the fabric. But the schools that need them most often have trouble getting them. It's a vicious circle.
On prioritizing the demands on schools (which is not as easy as one might think), I couldn't agree more. Especially including the arts. Most schools in other countries don't support athletic teams. But the charter school I was principal of would not have survived without an athletics program, and it did build spirit. (no football!)
The Feds and SC state law will not allow not dealing with special needs. We did reduce before and after school programs.
So that brings us to what we teach (in high school). We have to reduce remedial programs; they have become crutches. While I am a math and science person, we require far too few history courses. I think we need strong vocational programs, but we have to meet the needs of our best and brightest. This a a deep issue.
On money, I agree that it does not buy good teaching. Nor does competing for merit pay. But we are at the minimum I think we can go, particularly in getting the best college students into schools. I don't support differential pay, but math, science, and technology majors just aren't going into teaching.
These are great discussions because they get at how intractable these issues are!

Shaq's picture

All childcare(1-7)should be tax supported(free of charge), socioeconomically integrated, all teachers should have master's degrees, and teaching should focus on english, social skills, and emotional development. This would help eliminate the racial and socioeconomic inequalities in the U.S. educational system,as well as pay for itself in the long run(less likely to do drugs, wind up in prison,etc.). This could create a culture that values education(the earlier the age, the more malleable the child.

Peter Smyth's picture
Peter Smyth
Retired teacher and administrator

I would agree with teaching English, social skills, and emotional development to these kids. But these kids are also ready to learn and discover in many other ares, like math, languages, and science. There are huge differences in opportunities sadly based on race and socioeconomics variables. But the fact of the matter is that parents by nature look for the best for their kid. And much of what kids learn, they learn outside of school. Hopefully much of it in the home. So wile I support equal access, if I can afford it, I will give my four year old granddaughter (and grandson) an iPad, support her Montessori education, her dance, tennis, and gymnastics lessons. And help her mom choose the bet schools we can find for her. I will hold her feet to the fire, because she is responsible for her own learning. I hope this can be done in
a diverse environment because that is part of learning. But her future comes first.

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