More debate on whether charter schools should invite publicity for their lotteries
As I suspected, my rant in my last email on the need for charter schools to draw attention to their lotteries and, in general, be more politically and media savvy, drew some strong responses. I was deliberately provocative because I think this is a critical issue to address. If we don't improve in this area, our movement will continue to be hobbled, great schools notwithstanding, serving only a tiny fraction of the students who need great schools, and having little impact on the overall system.
Before I share my friends' comments, I want to make clear that I would never advocate that anyone turn a lottery into a circus, with myriad gawkers and/or someone like Geraldo running around with a camera capturing parents' most embarrassing/humiliating moments, making them feel like they're "animals in a zoo" (to quote one of my skeptical friends).
My friend raises a legitimate concern when he notes that a room full of wealthy, white observers of a lottery might send the wrong signal:
Frankly, in my experience, black people don't WANT white people to come to their rescue. They want the opportunity to do well, in whatever form that takes. But if I were black, I probably wouldn't want yet another reminder that all access to education, power, whatever, has to go through white folks and that even the means of self-empowerment -- educational attainment -- is provided by the white gatekeepers, who want to see you cry for it.
Point made, but I know there's a way to do this right. Handled properly, I think many parents would WELCOME the opportunity to go public with their feelings -- and those that didn't want to could be protected by an agreement with the media permitted to attend. I'm 100% confident that Eva will do it right, so if you're in/near NYC, go judge for yourself before drawing any conclusions. Here's the info again: Harlem Success charter school, Wednesday, March 28th at 6:00pm,
My friend also has a great idea, which he thinks would be more effective than publicizing a lottery:
What really needs to happen is news cameras need to get into some of the public schools and show kids fighting, screaming at teachers, teachers screaming at them, etc. The last time I visited my friend's school (in northern
) -- one of the worst I've ever seen -- he mentioned that THIS is what the NY Times should be covering: hallways full of kids running, shouting, and fighting DURING CLASS. It sure wouldn't take long at that school to get footage that would shock the hell out of most people. Manhattan
Hear, hear! But unfortunately, such footage is very hard to come by
Below are comments from two other friends, who have strong feelings about this topic:
I'm sorry that I'm still pissed off about the objections that you received. It just really bothers me that people don't see the politics here. Parents -- both the happy ones and the unhappy ones -- are the most authentic messengers for the dire need for reform. The only chance we have to give the parents a voice is on lottery night. It isn't exploitation, it is giving a soapbox to the people the UFT doesn't want the public to hear from. Real people, with real stories. I'm still dumbfounded that so many charter people feel it is best to muzzle them. I'm telling you: there are a lot of people who agree that we shouldn't highlight these lotteries.
One of the most dramatic lotteries I ever attended was actually the UFT's of all schools. In that case, the drama came from the cluelessness of the young teachers who were part of the school design team and who helped run the event. They treated it like a celebration and had balloons and cake and all. But then it occurred to them, once the mothers started crying when the slots were filled, that it wasn't such a happy event. The teachers looked like they had been hit in the head with bats.
Pointing out that parents are pissed off isn't exploiting them. This has bothered me about the overall charter school movement from the start -- too many people involved are still focused on the supply side and dismiss the demand side entirely. Hopefully, a critical mass of charters competing with each other will help that a bit. But even the average charter school in
today cares too little about the desires of the consumer. It's not even their fault really -- just like with the public schools, there is no competition so they don't have to care about parents and their choices.(One reason we have trouble closing crappy charters is they often are still better than the public school down the block.) America
These sentiments about not publicizing the lottery are one more reason that we may not yet deserve to have the charter cap lifted in an evolutionary sense. We still have too many people who care only about their school and not about revolutionizing a stubborn public education sector.
Every year this debate comes up, and every year I get discouraged.
Thanks for the rant. I agree with you and want to add my thoughts:
I think that it is very important to differentiate between distraught parents at a lottery and common image of parents crying at the death of a loved one in a fire or a murder. There is no bringing back the loved ones lost in a random tragedy. But a shortage of seats at charter schools is NOT a random tragedy, but rather the direct result of DELIBERATE actions by the NY State legislature -- in particular, the 123 members of the Assembly who recently voted for a bill that would make it nearly impossible for charters to co-locate in existing public school buildings, would force unionization on nearly every school, and would cut funding by 20% over the next two years. And this isn't a one-time attack: most people don't even know about the bill put forth by the NY Senate Education Chair last year that would have done similar harm to funding (which was fortunately defeated).
When these actions cause so much pain to so many families, I don't think these families should suffer in silence any longer. In fact, I believe it is not only in the best interests of our cause, but is also our MORAL DUTY, acting on behalf of these parents, to draw as much attention as possible to the outrage that is occurring here.
There are way too many naïve people in the charter school world. There are many great charter school operators out there who run excellent schools, but many of them are not focused on the forces that are constantly seeking to undermine their excellent schools. The opponents of charter schools are not thinking about kids when they convince the NY State Assembly to pass a bill that would destroy charter schools, so it's up to us to counter this.
There's no better way to do this than by publicizing a lottery it lets those 123 members of the Assembly know what they're doing real people. Regardless of whether the legislator, the NY Times or anyone else thinks these schools are "worthy", these PARENTS strongly believe that their children are losing a shot at a great education. I think that these families have been exploited by a failing system for too long and that keeping them hidden while those 123 legislators continue to vote against charters, claiming that they are unwanted, unneeded and deliver an inferior education, is WRONG.
Television coverage also provides valuable information for average people, few of whom know anything about charter schools (something our opponents take advantage of). Common misperceptions are that they are private/magnet schools, charge tuition, get to choose their students and/or are for-profit schools. The people on your email list are well informed about education policy, but most people are not. If they saw a real charter school lottery on television, most of these misperceptions would be dispelled. The conviction of the parents will be obvious to anyone watching, as the coverage will show hundreds of families wanting to get their children into a school and how strongly they want this opportunity for their child. This sincere and unflinching conviction is the best rebuttal to the lies our enemies spread about charter schools. Who could possibly be dismissive of charter schools after seeing a lottery and meeting the families whose lives are at stake?