Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stand Up for Education

Yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled any charter school approved by the state's "Georgia Charter Schools Commission" instead of the local school board in which is exists to be an unconstitutional entity.

And then, all hell broke loose in education news in Georgia.

This directly effects my local community because the building in which I teach (the one that my private school no longer owns) was leased for the 2011-2012 school year by a charter school -Cherokee Charter Academy- disapproved by the local school board but approved by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. As of yet, no one knows exactly how the ruling will impact the future for Cherokee Charter Academy, but one this is for sure: they won't be receiving any public funds for their school. The lottery for admittance to the school was this past week, and now parents who were previously excited about this option for their students are now -understandably- reeling.

Much of my community is very enraged and the local online paper is crying-out for pictures and comments from upset parents who intend to rally at the State Capitol to protest the ruling later this afternoon.

You know what? I think the ruling is amazing, awesome, perfect, and much-needed. I shared my thoughts with some colleagues this morning and they were shocked to hear that my opinion was in such contrast to theirs. In turn, I was so horrified by their comments -and what I've read online from people- that I have to respond.

Georgia is consistently ranked in the bottom of United States for education. It is ranked 45th based on S.A.T. scores and 47th based on the average rate of graduation. Obviously, there needs to be a major overhaul in how Georgians think about education, and this overhaul needs to happen soon.

But, is creating a larger gap between the "haves" and the "haves nots" really the answer?

One of my colleagues stated this morning: "I should have a right to say where my tax dollars go! I want them to go towards better education." I absolutely understand what he is talking about, and I understand that he really wants more of a say in where his money goes.

But, the truth is, he already has his opportunity to have a say, and he has done nothing about it. There is a hard truth that a lot of people who bemoan "taxpayer dollars" need to make peace with: You are never going to get a card that allows you to line-item and pick and choose where your taxes go. I'm sorry. It is just never going to work that way.

BUT, you can get involved in local government, become educated, and work alongside non-profits, action groups etc. etc. to have more of a voice in where tax paying dollars go collectively. Unfortunately, I don't see many people who are more reserved about tax dollars involved in such groups. Well, honestly guys, you are missing you opportunity. I'm not saying that is exactly what you want, or the best. . . But, it IS the best option you have.

Really? Are we in war? I think everyone -including the government- wants education to improve. I think we are in a disagreement as to the "how." I think that the above phrase sounds politically good, and it gives the public a "bad guy" on which to focus. But in this case, there isn't a bad guy, there is just a really bad situation: education.

I believe charter schools contribute to the ever-widening gap between affluent students and at-risk students. And, please don't mistake me. When I say "affluent", I mean students who have caring parents/guardians, who can pay bills, keep their children fed and clean. In my opinion if you have all of those things, then you are well-off.

Go and visit a charter school. I've worked in one. The parents are involved, the children are clean and well-dressed. These are students who honestly would be okay in a public school situation. In fact, most of them would excel in public school because they already have much of the recipe needed for success: active parents who are going to demand the very best for them.

The students in charter schools are leaders, they are the students who peer-teach in your class, they are students who help their peers to succeed just by being in class with them. . .And we lose them to charter schools. The students in charter schools don't "need" a specialized environment, instead they have the option for it. . .And, their parents took it.

Today, thousands of parents are expected to descend upon the Georgia State Capitol and protest the ruling on charter schools. When was the last time "thousands" descended on the Georgia State Capitol to protest for public education? Well, it was last year when the State decided to hike Georgia University tuition. . .And the people who protested were the people directly effected: college students. But, when was the last time taxpayers protested for K-12 education in Georgia? Honestly, I have no idea, because I can't remember that ever happening.

So, yeah, I take people to task who want to complain that education needs to be better and point to charter schools as the answer when they haven't even attempted to fix the current system. I said that this morning to my colleagues. . .But I was met with this response: "Oh we have tried that; it doesn't work." Really? No, no YOU haven't tried that. You haven't protested, worked for group to support education. You have sat at home, watched the news, debated the "rightness" of decisions with friends and then done nothing. How can you expect things to improve if you won't accept responsibility for your own part?

Charter schools aren't wrong or bad. I find them interesting, and I don't have a problem with them as a viable option for parents; but I'm not crazy about funding them with my tax dollars since they aren't accountable in the same way public schools are. However, having said that, if my local school board approves a charter school, I'm down with that. This means the county feels there is role the charter school can take in the community, and it also means that I've had an opportunity to check out the charter too, as all this information is public.

Some charter schools do fill much-needed gaps. One in my hometown, Amana Academy, focuses heavily on Arabic culture as part of its charter. The students who attend come from mostly (it isn't exclusive) from Arabic families. The school has a burka option as part of its uniform dress code. I think this school fills a much needed role of providing a safe and common place for a growing Arabic community to have as an option. Instead of being the only girl in school wearing a head covering or burka, you have a whole group of friends who come from similar backgrounds. You have the opportunity to a majority instead of a minority. The school consistently wins awards and performs high on test and academics. In my opinion, it is a great example of a good charter.

But Cherokee Charter Academy, who was refused by the local board of education, serves no such purpose. I attended the community meetings Cherokee Charter had earlier this Spring. The school seems wants to provide great academics and school environment; it really does sound like a great school. But, it seems to me that the purpose of the school is offer an option to public school with the thought that public school is failing children. While education in Georgia isn't great, the metro-Atlanta school districts perform much higher -in general- than the rest of the state. Cherokee County has wonderful school systems and rank high on state tests and academics. So, the idea that parents in this county need a viable option just to have an option is a joke.

And, here are some of the comments I heard from parents in the Cherokee Charter meetings that I overheard: "Are teachers going to have a better attitude?," "are you going to offer [X,Y,Z option]" and usually the option is something that would never be offered by any school in any way. "Why aren't you going to offer busing from all over the county? Is isn't fair that some students will be left out." Basically, the parent comments were all about the inequity of an option that didn't cater to every single one of their requests.

And these were parents carrying nice handbags and driving nice cars. Oh, the inequity of it all!

Along those same lines, private school parents make the same comments and actively fight for their child to have more. I could type you lines that have been sent to me by parents that would appall you they are so entitled and narcissistic. Today, when I was speaking with my colleagues, who are also private school parents, they made some really entitled remarks. When I pointed out the ever-growing gap between at-risk students and everyone else one shrugged and waved me off saying: "Oh, that has always been there, whatever." And, one tried to lecture about how schools were started to religiously indoctrinate people anyway, I attempted to correct her by pointing to the surge of public schools offered during industrialization (to which even Sir Ken Robinson concedes) as an attempt to educate people for jobs in industry. . .But, I know when I am not heard.

Let's talk about inequity. I went on an interview yesterday in rural Georgia. A parent came in to check in her older son (about 2nd grade age) and had her toddler aged son with her. They were all very, very, very, dirty and smelled very strongly of old sweat and body odor. The two little boys were sweet and well behaved. The mother was had to discuss some health issues (I presume about her son) to the school nurse and mentioned her state support cheque and medicaid. Ultimately, the oldest son was sent off to class. He was covered in infected scabs and had on a very dirty polo short and shorts. The polo shirt had a huge gaping hole in the front of it. This was not a negligent mother, this was simply a mother with -for whatever reason- no means. She is doing the best she can by her kids, but she has a lot stacked against her.

How can that boy ever hope to perform as well as students who are well-fed, clean, and wearing intact clothing? That, ladies and gentlemen is inequity.

And, do we honestly think a charter school would answer this student's -and millions like him- problems? Oh! A charter school! All my issues have fallen away and my future is perfect.

But today, while thousands protest for their well-off children to have more, this student will probably eat his one guaranteed meal a day for free in the cafeteria, ride the bus home, help his mom with his little brother, and not have the materials he needs to do his homework.

When those charter school kids graduate and march off to college or good jobs etc. This student will most likely drop out, work menial labor, and repeat the cycle he lived because there hasn't been a viable option for him to escape it.

And, that is my fault, and your fault.

No, I don't think charter schools or private schools are the answer. Those options only ensure that certain types of students get quality education, and I want education for everyone; especially those who need an advocate.

So my question to you is, are you willing to stand up for your vocation and your students futures by taking an active role in speaking out for your kids?

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