Charter schools: Are they right for Alabama? (Post 3)

Today's post concludes the 3-part series on charter schools in Alabama. SB45 has been passed by the Alabama Senate Committee and will make its way to the full legislature. From what I understand, the big vote for SB45 will take place Tuesday, March 10th. Please hear the words of my friend Laura, a teacher with extensive experience as a public school teacher in Alabama AND who has had experience in a charter school of a neighboring state. I included links below her part to help you read more about the charter school movement.

New to this series? Catch up by clicking these links for Post 1 and Post 2.

charter schools in alabama

Tutoring falls within the “other duties” portion of the charter school teacher’s non-binding contract. We were paid by the hour for extra time put in, HOWEVER it was an arm-twisting effort to make you believe that if you weren’t willing to fight tooth and nail to tutor a class of kids, you weren’t fit to be an educator. Did you catch what I said? Tutor a CLASS of children. I had 15-20 kids in my tutoring class depending on what quarter it was. Tutoring should not be another two hours of class work. Tutoring should be one-on-one or small group instruction that focuses on the needs of those few kids...NOT having to differentiate learning for another two hours.  This “tutoring” was simply an extension of the regular school day.  Passion sucking…

Let’s chat about the school day. The particular charter I worked for had reduced PE to once a “specials” rotation. The kids were not allowed to have PE daily as mandated by the state. They got around this by providing recess time for kids but even then, it rarely added up to the weekly minutes. Beyond that, this school year the school I was in has decided to phase out regular ole “go out on the playground and run around and play” recess and substitute “organized instructional recess” or some other make-it-look-like-recess name.

What it really amounts to? Is more classroom time.  

I feel like I need to give them kudos for spending on teachers but then again…

We had breakfast almost every morning of pre-planning week, received our own polo and sweater, had water and coke and cookies or other snacks at faculty meetings, and had awesome door prizes at our “Holiday” party. We got our own umbrella with the official logo on it and had a teacher and staff member of the month that received a nice gift card to a local restaurant, but...the school didn’t provide copy paper. Yep, I said that. Paper was supposed to be donated by the parents. Reality check, the majority of the paper came out of our own pockets. I was a “Teacher of Month,” and I enjoyed eating out but I would have much rather have been provided music or instruments for my classroom or even some paper to send a letter home requesting more copy paper.

A few other things I noticed:

  • Many of the administrators who were chosen for promotion in the company were not educators at heart. Many were business people who had gone back to school for their educational leadership certificate OR they were teachers who realized that if they wanted to go anywhere they needed their MBA. I did apply and was selected to participate in their leadership training  (I have my Master’s of Educational Leadership) but didn’t get promoted. In the long run I didn’t want to do that anyway because of the stresses of holding to unreasonable expectations. This partnered with the hypocrisy I would have felt in my soul.

  • Teachers are thrown out with the trash. There’s a lot of begging and pleading and arm-twisting and shaming into putting the charter and the kids first. This is at the detriment of the teacher’s own family. Young teachers quit at alarming rates and vow to never return to teaching. Veteran teachers simply get the “change or go somewhere else” speech (even if their normal is phenomenal). I saw teachers walk away from what they knew as life because their soul simply couldn’t handle the abuse anymore. Because of the non-binding agreement, turnover is out of control. Most of this is teacher choice. They can’t do it anymore. They didn’t want to do it anymore. And in either case, a teacher walking out or being fired, they are simply thrown out. They hear the phrase, “Walk with me.” They go get their purse and are escorted to their car. No 2-week notice is accepted. In one case, as the teacher was in the meeting finding out she was fired (for test scores – even though her mostly special needs classroom made grand improvements), a couple of “maintenance” workers were in her room boxing up her things and walked them out to her car. “People skills” leave a bit to be desired.

  • I had always thought that charter meant they could expel kids that were habitual troublemakers. I even asked the question when I was interviewing how many kids they removed because of behavior. The response was that they didn’t have that many issues with behavior, and that most of the expulsions took place because parents didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. They SHOULD have gotten rid of several kids who were abusers. Like physically hitting teachers, spitting, yelling at, cussing teachers and/or other students but they would have had to report behavioral problems and I guess they didn’t want to have that in their “data.”

  • What about that bargain? Parents sign a contract that they will do certain things like keep their student’s uniforms up to date. In this contract there is an incredible policy that parents have to volunteer 20 hours a year or 30 if they have multiple children. EVERY PARENT. This is seen at first as an incredible resource for teachers (they have duty free lunch) but then comes the amendment that they can “purchase” an hour of volunteer time for $10. So, you can send a $200 or $300 (monetary or supply) donation and get out of your hours. I rarely saw more than a handful of parents in the school at any time, so let’s do the math...1200 kids…Let’s say 800 of those kids’ parents decided to “buy-out” their hours. Just for “what-if” sake let’s say 400 of them are only children and the other 400 are sets of 2 siblings. 400 X $200 = $80,000 + 200 X $300 = $60,000. That’s another $140,000 just for the school I was in. The teachers aren’t privy to where that money goes…

  • Charters are “for profit.” The CEO of the very large company I worked for made a HUGE amount of money. Yes, he’s under a huge amount of stress and has a huge amount of responsibility but did you catch my earlier comment about paper?

  • Charters are uniform policy schools. They contend that uniforms are the great equalizer. However, they go into contract with certain companies and as a parent you can only buy from that company. The company doesn’t have to be the best “deal.” It may, in fact be a whole lot more expensive than a neighboring store. It’s all a moneymaker.

  • Speaking of moneymaker. Everything, let me repeat, EVERYTHING is a fundraiser.  However, most of this fundraised money, the teacher never sees in his / her classroom. Our school had “Jeans Fridays.” The student could bring $1 and wear jeans with their uniform shirt. Let’s do the math on that. We had 1200 kids or so…what if 800 of them choose to wear jeans every week? 800 X $1 X 36 weeks = $28,800. That’s almost $30,000 that I have NO CLUE where it went! Probably my umbrella.

  • I don’t know if this is every charter company or just the one I worked for but lunches were purchased in bulk (like frozen dinners). This was meant as a cost-saving effort. There were only 3 lunchroom workers (for 1200 kids). They came in and placed the lunches in a warmer and served them in their paper container as the kids walked through the lunchroom line. And you think your lunchroom food is bad?!?

I could probably keep going.  I could probably come up with many more pages of things to say against charter schools in Alabama; however, I’ll end with this. I am a better teacher because of my charter experience, but only because I survived. After the very deep soul-searching I had to do throughout my tenure as a charter teacher, I am a better person for having learned that the grass isn’t always greener on the charter side. I now strive to help kids “long for the immensity of the sea.” Alabama education does need fixin’ (excuse my Southern). We do need a hero that will come in and save the day, but that hero needs to come in the form of funding and ending poverty in Alabama, NOT in the form of a corporation disguised in educator’s clothing.

We do need a hero that will come in and save the day, but that hero needs to come in the form of funding and ending poverty in Alabama, NOT in the form of a corporation disguised in educators’ clothing.
— Laura, Charter School Teacher & Alabama Public School Teacher