Are charter schools right for Alabama?

charter schools in Alabama

There is quite a ruckus these days in Alabama’s education world. One of the many scorching issues is this bill which would allow funding for charter schools in our state. I have seen the Waiting for Superman documentary and I regularly digest the writings of many great thinkers and leaders in the education world on both sides of all kinds of controversies.

But I do not support charter schools.

Charter schools sound nice. Charter schools have been painted as The Great Answer for kids who are zoned for "failing" schools. And I want you to know that at one point I thought the charter concept would be a great alternative to failing public schools. However, after years of study, research, and conversations with all kinds of people on this topic, I understand now that what we really need to be looking at is the definition of a failing school, the vulnerability of data (we can make it say whatever we want to make it say), and the fact that public education in Alabama has been underfunded for 6 years. School libraries have received $0. Schools have received $0 for professional development, technology, textbooks, and local units...putting the pressure for finding that money on the backs of local school districts and all the way down to the teachers and local communities on which those districts are built.

I cannot tell you how many fundraisers I have had to do in the past 6 years. I have written letters, applied for grants, recycled old ink cartridges, and more just to have enough money to keep ink in the printers for our students. There is no room for improving my school’s ridiculously outdated print collection because our state leaders think it is more important to drain the Education Trust Fund to fix roads and entice businesses (who WILL get huge payroll rebates yet WON'T pay taxes here, mind you) to come to Alabama. It is LAUGHABLE that any legislator dare suggest that public schools struggle for any reason other than that they have been ill-equipped to serve by the stroke of those very same legislators’ pens. There is a poverty problem in our state, and more resources/support/funding is the answer...charter schools are not. 

Charter schools would mean that our children would become commodities...that they and their futures would become, essentially, for sale to the highest bidder. Charter schools would mean the decimation of teacher value and retention. Charter schools would burden parents of students attending with contracts including mandatory volunteer hours, mandatory uniforms, and mandatory participation in fundraisers. Charter schools in Alabama would be a complete disaster...for students, for families, and especially for teachers. 

It is vital that we remained informed and understand that this charter school movement has begun the journey to law. Parents, teachers, community leaders, and students: we have to speak up. Research the process and contact your legislators today!  

I recommend calling or emailing directly, if possible, since you will probably see this error (so convenient!) if you try to message through the website. 

capwiz error

I’ve asked my friend Laura to share on a more personal level, as she has extensive firsthand experience as a teacher in Alabama as well as a charter school in a neighboring state. She has a lot to share, so check back the next few days for the series in its entirety. You will not believe what she has to say!

“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

This tag line on my email account is one of my favorite quotes, like ever in the history of the all the world! God granted me the privilege to call teaching my love, my passion, and what I (even after a really bad day) still want to get up and do every day of my life. I’m a music teacher, and that love for teaching musical skill and appreciation has evolved into a simple thirst for knowledge of all kinds...and to lead my kids to that very same thirst.  

I have told many children that I want them to find something they LOVE to do, their passion, their gifts, and their voice.  It proves to be sheer joy when a child is responsible, tells the truth, stands up for justice, speaks out for the hurting; that, my friends, is more important in the long run than whether or not they made a 100 on their math test!  Therefore, when offered the opportunity to share my life experience about charter schools, I jumped on the chance.

Truth is, I was ecstatic when my family moved to Florida to begin ministry and I took a position in a charter school. I am an 18-year teaching veteran and had heard all these amazing things about technology, accountability, funding, etc. I knew that I was taking a $16,000 pay cut (17%) but filed that under ministry expenses. Coming from a state where all we hear of is funding crisis, failing schools, and educational woes, I looked forward to the grass on the other side. In reality, it was one of the most tiring teaching years of my existence.  (Full disclosure: Had God not closed the doors on the ministry there, I’d still be working in a charter. That is, unless I had found a job with another system.)  

Saint-Exupery addresses tasks and work first, so I will too:

When I signed my “intent to work” statement a couple of things caught my attention.  

  • Work hours were not listed, however, the “and other duties” was there in all caps (well maybe not caps but it should have been!). I was told to report at 7:30 and then 3:30 was sign-out time. I had rarely ever left school by 3:30 so there was really no concern.  However, by the second week of school, we had been in meetings until almost 5:00pm every day. Every day an announcement was made: “There will be a mandatory faculty meeting today after school.” We would fiddle through some business and then address things like scores and testing and the first quarter numbers and when this round of testing would start, etc. More on this in another post…
  • It was a non-binding agreement. I could resign or they could fire me at any point in time. I didn’t need a reason and they didn’t either! In light of some issues I have with tenure, this statement didn’t at all affect me. I do my job, I try hard, I follow the rules, and I teach my kids!  

I put my John Hancock on the paper and began preparing for an exciting year of teaching.

At our orientation, I was shocked at how much “stuff” I was required to put in my classroom: Minute by minute agenda for every class, EQs and Objectives, data, this and that and the other.  Every walk-through would begin with a checklist of things that were in (or missing) from your classroom. The parameters for the organization and decoration of my classroom were a little disheartening. I could only cover a certain percentage of my walls with posters. I couldn’t bring in a lamp or anything to make it “personal.”  Every classroom had the exact same furniture and any other items had to be removed and taken out of the building.  Even rugs that weren’t stamped with the logo of the charter couldn’t be used.  (You know those cute kindergarten carpets with the letters and numbers…the ones that the first-year teacher spends her life savings to buy and decorate her classroom the way she has always wanted to? Yeah, she had to take it home…) Again, I tried to rationalize and remember that I was now working for a “company” and things were going to be different. We worked through all these cans and cant’s and then came the shocker.  “You’re the first to hear this but we are establishing a ‘no homework graded policy’.”

After the commotion calmed a bit, several teachers needed clarification, which boiled down to that every teacher was still required to give XYZ amount of homework and use them as “practice” grades (that are mandatory in the grade book); however, the child is not mandated to bring it back and the “practice grades” aren’t reflected in the final classroom grade. WHAT?!?  What it amounted to was this… they knew kids needed practice but they did not want the practice to count off of their overall classroom grades. As a “public” schoolteacher looking into this world for the first real time, I began to think it wasn’t totally about “the kids” at all; it was about the outsider’s perspective of “success” in a charter. 

More from Laura tomorrow!