My experience in teaching is not an extensive one, having been in education for only nine years now. My prior occupations included accounting, project and operations management, and technical consulting. But, perhaps, that gives me a different perspective on the public versus charter school debate. Is Betsy Devos right for supporting more neighborhood and charter schools? Or will other school districts succumb to the same tribulations, because of her agenda, as Detroit has?
There is no better city to find evidence to support or refute the benefits of one over the other than in the Detroit Public School – DPS – system, where charter schools outnumber the public schools, and the trend will continue. There are schools, both public and charter, on every other block in some neighborhoods. But the questions still linger. Will academic performance improve? And relative to what, considering that DPS is one of the worst, if not the worst performing school district in the country?
Because I am observing as a contracted substitute teacher, I have no political alliances to any particular school administration to influence my observations. I have yet to form a solid opinion on public versus charter because I have seen the benefits of both over the years. My mindset is one that students should not only be taught academics, but they should learn those soft and hard skills needed to become successful adults, and highly productive taxpayers as well. Did I mention my bachelors degree is in Economics?
After a year as a substitute teacher in the Detroit charter schools, the jury is still out. The dramatic bailout of Michigan’s underperforming schools in June of 2016 has not kept schools from closing. Some of those that are closing are charter schools.
The problem with all the schools I have been in is the high rate of teacher turnover. Last week I substituted for an elementary class that had seen three teachers resign just that year. And, the administration was put in a position, so late in the year, where placing a substitute over a permanent teacher made more sense financially.
The reason for the turnover? The rate of pay for teachers in Michigan has dropped consistently over the last five years. Teachers no longer need to be certified to teach, lowering the standards for what counts as a “highly qualified” teacher. And, some will get angry when I say this, many new teachers come from privileged suburban backgrounds, so they have a difficult time adjusting to the Title 1 educational demands, not to mention the culture of poverty.
Based on my obsevations at the end of the school year, I’m surprised to hear the kids happily sharing the receipt of their notifications that they have to attend summer school. I overheard one student say, “Summer school is fun!” So what if they spend some of their time swimming, boating, in a computer lab learning coding, in a science lab learning robotics, or even camping?
In the world of Instructional Technology, in which I received my Masters in K-12 Education with Licensure, we consider that exploratory and apprenticeship learning. For most teachers, such opportunities become prime “teaching moments”. For the student, learning becomes less abstract and more relevant. Maybe summer school curriculum should become a required part of the standard curriculum, no matter whether it’s in a public or charter school!