MAILBAG: Did Someone Say Facts? Public vs Charter continues…

A reader emailed us his disappointment that we’d print commentary from a local public school teacher who is fighting against a charter overtake. We disagree that there’s no place for conversation in community news, and present Robin Lowry’s passionate rebuttal with insightful links. 

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LETTER to the EDITOR (excerpted slightly for brevity)

I was a little disappointed at the derogatory and untrue comments made about the Mastery network.  I’m a local pediatrician and many of my patients are at these schools.  They don’t act as other charters have and kick kids out of their schools, they function as a public school. 

 I understand these are her personal thoughts but they are grossly inaccurate.  They make a significant effort to develop a close relationship with the community and work very hard for their kids. 

 Her problem is likely that they don’t give tenure and the teachers are held accountable every year, regardless of how long they have been teaching.  The good ones love it since the get paid appropriately for their time, effort and responsibility.  Ms Lowry is welcome to her personal opinion but as a local publication we, the readers, expect a level of accuracy to your articles. 

— B.W.

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Great, a detractor.  I’m called out for expressing “opinions” about Mastery charter.  I am suspected of being biased because Mastery doesn’t offer tenure. Is that your best shot? Bring it on.

The discussion about tenure is really about Due Process.  Perhaps you don’t remember when teachers were harassed for religion, gender, sexuality, or political persuasion?  Or when teachers were dismissed for getting pregnant?  Here is a report on unions actually culling poor teachers better than districts with weak or non-existent unions.

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What has happened to respect for teaching and teachers?  Successful national school systems like Finland and South Korea have it. I’m wondering if attacks on teachers are part of a larger attack on women?  The teachers, leaders and support staff at my school are all women with the exception of our dear Building Rep.  Do some of the reformers have a misogynist agenda?  Just asking.

Wister was told on Jan 11th that because we showed improvement on the School Progress Report (and maybe because we caught them in the Enrollment lie), we were going to remain District-run. Yay! We Won!!!

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BUT at the last SRC meeting a last minute-resolution by Sylvia Simms — the gal who yelled (!!) at student protesters telling students they probably went to failing schools — put Wister back in Mastery’s sphere of influence.

At that meeting, fake Wister parents were said to have had their voice heard.  So-called parents were herded to meetings by Mastery suits, given blue t-shirts emblazoned with “We Support the Wister Turnaround”, even transported by van to & from locations. BTW: I could only identify 2 parents, the most vocal one is my neighbor with no kids at Wister!

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When market forces are unleashed on caring professions disaster follows. We keep working because we care about students. Market-based Reforms, ha.  As if education or health is a product that can be sold, and one that should be competed for.

“What are we? Winners or Losers?”  

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Why is it OK to talk about Students and Teachers as winners and losers?   Successes and Failures? That’s the “Accountability Movement” at its finest — sorting kids and families, good and bad.  You know who talks “Winners and Losers” ?? Wall Street. Madison Avenue. The Armed Forces.  Public Schools should not be run this way. (Nor hospitals or utilities like drinking water, btw.)

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I recently shared the description that teachers today feel as if they are being “gaslighted.” Did you watch the movie? Charles Boyer little by little makes Ingrid Bergman think she’s going crazy. The strategy is to undermine the victim’s confidence, make them doubt themselves, plot to put them “away.”

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Teachers ask if we’re crazy  — resources stripped from schools at the same time we are to make all children “proficient” at Math and Reading; teach to 5 different reading levels in one classroom; daily and weekly assessments to measure students yet hardly time to teach; the Common Core with no aligned resource materials — teachers decide what texts to use then have to find enough books or make copies with paper that they have to buy themselves.  Are we crazy?

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No heat in some rooms, blasting in others; no paper, soap, TP! Constant influx and outflux of students — never the same students from September to June. Schools, teachers, & students graded on composite results of Math and Reading tests only.

Mind you, if a student reads on a 3rd grade level they still have to test on their grade level — so a 9th grade test maybe.  This is crazy!  It feels cruel to have to sit with those students for the weeks of testing every spring. Oh, the state comes in to make sure all posters, charts and even inspirational posters are removed from all walls and halls during testing.  Even in my PE classroom!  CRAZY MAKING!

Here’s a thought experiment:  switch teachers at a Lower Merion school with teachers matched by grade and subject with a Philadelphia school.  Who’s more effective?  Is it “who” or is it “where?”

Imagine you’re a doctor and need a medical test on a patient to gauge some issue and you don’t get the results for 6 months. And your patient is graded on a Wellness Scale with no other specific areas of concern identified. Oh, and they are no longer your patient — they’ve moved.

Are we are crazy?! Is it us?  This doesn’t make sense.

Wister Elementary has been on a roller coaster ride. October 1st we were told we were such failures (having lost 26 support staff in the previous 5 years including before and after school activities) that only a charter company could come in and save us.  How long were they thinking that before telling us? Are we crazy?

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Parents and staff have been asking why we weren’t told we needed to hit some benchmarks or this would happen by such and such date. It’s not like we were happy with untenable conditions — no library, no nurse, Kindergarten classes of 30 and no aide.  All supplies paid for by teachers, working recess too — no support staff. The constant flux of students.

Are we crazy?  Are these conditions for learning?

If a doctor’s patient is ill as determined by tests and the treatment is denied because of money, if the patient gets sicker, or worse, is the doctor liable?

Austerity measures — doing more with less. When children have less at home AND less at school they have a double risk for failure.  When students have less at home they need MORE at school. It’s common sense.

No Excuses charters have been saying poverty is no excuse for the failures of public schools — up until recently. Now they seem to be acknowledging poverty and trauma and are advocating for more money for schools. They denied poverty was an issue when we brought it up until their hands were well in the pot.  Am I crazy to think they want this money now that they own a bunch of schools in poor neighborhoods?

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The most effective learning happens spontaneously — not from a textbook and certainly not from teaching “testing strategies.”   Children learn best from someone who is full of life, with a passion for the subject matter and a love of sharing information. Not someone slowly driven crazy!  Parents want to know teachers, teachers want to know parents — this trust and understanding creates a social fabric, but what’s happening now is rending that fabric.  This is so sad to me!

East Falls Local supports writers like Robin who are trying to make a difference by sharing their insights, impressions, and experiences. Please check out her links for more information, and comment below with your own opinions and resources. 

BTW:  #SaidNoSchoolEver is a Hefty meme campaign promoting their Box Tops for Education initiative.

2 Comments

  • John (Jake) Margerum

    It makes no sense to me that we move schools from “public” to “charter” and think it will change the underlying dynamics of performance. If we would invest sufficient resources in early childhood education, provide all the materials teachers need and strengthen the bond between the schools and the local community we would all benefit.

  • Robin

    Agreed Jake. Social benefits should be one of the categories of education outcomes; they are the foundation of democracy. But for an oligarchy – different goals. Citizens must take up the cause that public education create the type of citizens we most desire. Not drones, or merely “tomorrow’s workers” but articulate, cultured and engaged individuals.

    The teachers I work with are the hardest workers you could meet. Not a lost second in their day. Kindergarten teachers with 30 students some reading at a 1st grade level because Mom reads to him everyday and others still learning letters and numbers. That’s the starting point at many schools – charter or Public. To say charters are better at education is really PR spin. Right now those running our public district are discrediting the efforts of teachers and principals and allowing their “partners” to continue to shame our students as unable to read. How does that help children read?

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