You may have noticed a shift in focus on the blog recently. Every once in awhile this happens. I will tell you why. Call it critical thinking and problem solving? For the past two years, I have been serving on our local school district advisory committee. It broadens my perspectives on challenges districts face. Some of these challenges relate to an internal culture on the board and staff. Others reflect community culture. I certainly understand why sometimes reformers want to throw everything out and start over, even though that approach can make everything worse. It reminds me of the old adage “Be careful what you wish for”.
We are lucky in Alachua County. The community supports public schools, and we have a new superintendent who has a bold vision. Nevertheless, we have the same challenges as others; we have gone from an ‘A’ to a ‘C’ district. We have some segregated schools, high drop out rates, discipline/suspension issues, teacher morale and retention concerns, charter school oversight problems, and financial problems due to school choice that are forcing closure of some schools. Testing and accountability are a mixed blessing; some would say a curse. They do, however, alert the public to the need for change. (Maybe we do not need to be reminded all the time every year, but we cannot ignore problems either.)
For several years, I have focused on learning what can be done to improve charter management and oversight. Lessons are coming in from other states like Louisiana and New Jersey. I have posts coming up that can give us all hope and direction. It does not all have to be negative once people really understand the problems and the consequences of inaction.
To be fair, there are some legitimate reasons why people turn to charters and private schools. They feel stymied by a one size fits all approach to education. We all want to do ‘something special’ for our children. Parents may not realize that charters have to standardize too in order to be efficient and make profits. Parents may actually lose more control when private management companies make the rules. Their only real option when they are dissatisfied is to leave. Then, they have to have somewhere to go. As people here and elsewhere have learned, charters fail often for many reasons. Students are left in the lurch.
We have to find better solutions, I believe, than the divide and conquer mentality that seems so prevalent now. This means turning back to public schools to see what alternatives exist that can make schools work better for everyone. The League is not the expert in this, but if we are informed and help others become involved and informed, we can encourage, push, and support… whatever it takes, to help our local schools face the challenges ahead. I go more regularly to (some) school board meetings, workshops on charters, and to schools. I meet with staff and school board members. I know some of you also are actively engaged. This helps.
Long story short, you will see more posts on public school issues and strategies along with school choice strategies and concerns. Alert me and others as you come across examples of progress. Some how we need to move from an either or world to one that is more equitable and responsive.