Monday, February 28, 2011

Mailbag: An Educator Responds to an Administrator

As a former resident of the 1st Ward and having been a former teacher at a CPS school and at a charter school, I’d like to “comment on the state of public education in Chicago” in response to the 1st Ward administrator at a charter school, who is also a resident of Bucktown.

First of all, you feel Pipeline didn’t do enough research, but I guess it’s okay for our new Mayor to get his facts wrong about the best-performing schools being charter schools. None of them are charter schools. What’s more scary is that this happened before Election Day and he still won.

I’m sure you didn’t mean to sound condescending when you made your suggestion to Pipeline about doing more research, but it sounded that way to a former educator from Chicago. You’re only an administrator, which means you have no clue what goes on in the classrooms. You wrote charter schools have “the freedom to manage [their] budget as [they] see fit, hire and fire teachers as [they] see fit, and develop curriculum and instructional methods, based on research, to educate [their] students.”

You say nothing about what’s best for the students. It’s all about how you see it. Not only do you get money from CPS, you also get “donations” from very rich benefactors, whose names are attached to the school. Therefore, you’re not being 100% truthful when you say that charter schools function on less money than CPS schools. I’ve seen administrators in charter schools use their money to decorate their offices with new furniture, pay for alcoholic beverages at holiday parties and retreats and use it for unnecessary non-student related expenses, while I’ve been asked to reconsider a text because there wasn’t enough money for it. Charter schools are all about profit, as are all schools, public and private. In all honesty, teachers and staff are let go for personal reasons and/or they’ve become too expensive, which is something CPS has started doing, as well, but they have to make sure to get rid of the teacher right before they reach tenure or blatant lies are made about them to get rid of them if they’re already tenured.

When I applied to be a part of the charter school system, I was assured that I’d be able to teach the way I wanted to teach, without the traditional constraints. Well, there were some serious constraints. I was also led to believe charter schools exist so that neighborhood kids had a better alternative for their education. You know what I saw? I saw special education students being treated like they didn’t matter. I saw regular education students treated like they didn’t matter and only those students who were exceptional were awarded for achieving high test scores, but realistically, there aren’t as many of those in low economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and it has nothing to do with whether it’s charter or CPS. It’s only about money. Charter schools follow a "business model ," not a "teaching model" and teachers and staff are overworked and micromanaged, yet, the ones who believe in their students and always put students first, will ultimately pay in the end.

I’ve seen teachers and staff who always put students first and are phenomenal at what they do and they’re fired. There are so many teachers and staff at charter schools who are scared about losing their jobs that they’ll go with the flow, even though they disagree. They’ll even make up lies about their colleagues, if it’ll save their jobs. Yes, it’d be fantastic if all students could go to college, graduate and become successful, but that’s unrealistic. What about those kids who don’t want to go? I’ll tell you what happens to them. They’re pushed out to go somewhere else because charter schools don’t want those kinds of kids in their schools, which means the purpose of charter schools is not being followed.

I don’t want to say there aren’t any positives to charter schools, because there are. For instance, charter schools do provide opportunities for students to visit and help get into good colleges; they have state of the art computer equipment and healthier food choices. Charter schools also provide rigorous instruction in ninety minute classes where they’re supposed to sit still, in order to prepare them for college. For me, the best part of charter schools are the students. I’ve worked at CPS, so I can say that these kids are exceptional. Truly exceptional and yet, I’ve had administrators and colleagues say they are the worst, and that’s because they’ve never student taught or worked in a CPS school.

And if you really, truly believe that charter schools are not franchises? Again, you’re not being honest. If there’s one thing I’ve witnessed in the past few years are the number of new charter schools within networks that keep cropping up, but aren’t doing substantially better in test scores than other neighborhood CPS schools. It seems that no one at city hall or the government can figure it out. You have a former CEO of CPS in Washington D.C. in charge of our country’s education, who’s never taught. We’ve also had a former CEO of CTA who recently resigned from CPS who clearly wasn’t qualified to do either of the jobs, who also never taught. What it comes down to is quality teachers, administrators and staff who put students first. Students are students no matter what or where they’re from, and in my experience, you can take the worst student and make them believe in him or herself, and they’ll eventually get it because they want it. You can’t save them all, but even those kids who are privileged fail, too. At any educational level, without proper support, it fails.

I can’t tell you the number of stellar educators and staff who’ve been let go for personal reasons and not for their quality of work. Perhaps, you’re not like that, but if that were the case, your charter school would be in the top ten because teachers and staff will do anything for a boss who appreciates them and actually let’s them do their jobs. No one ever asks the students what they want, what works for them or how they feel. I’m always rooting for the educational system to overcome the obstacles that bring it down. It’s not the test scores that create the best person or worker in the future; it’s more than that. When that’s figured out, the state of education in Chicago will improve.

-Just an honest educator

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