In the Seattle area, choice is a privilege that not all families benefit from. Economic privilege is inextricably linked to school choice — school performance (as measured by assessment scores) correlates to median household income, so higher-performing schools tend to be in the higher-income areas of the city. And since school assignment is typically determined by area of residence, for those families with limited financial resources, the ability to choose a school that works for their children may be nonexistent.Read More
Today’s planet faces many tough challenges. High school has helped me understand that while challenges can be daunting, they can be overcome by hard work and innovation. I’d like to study bioremediation, which is learning how to clean up the environment from toxins that degrade our ecosystem and the organisms that live in them.
One of my most memorable experiences at Summit Sierra was seeing — in real-time — the impact bioremediation can have. We conducted an experiment in science class that demonstrated the process of cleaning up radiation from nuclear fallout where we planted mustard seeds. To see this powerful process in-person reinforced my interest and determination to improve our environment and that it’s possible to work toward a sustainable and more livable planet.Read More
As a public school parent, charter schools are a matter of principle. It's about offering parents a choice. My neighbors with privilege have generally found a way to get their kids into a different, “better” school than the historically neglected public elementary school down the block. Our neighbors without as much privilege generally haven't. That's not right.
Of course, with only 10 charter schools open in Washington State last school year, serving only 2400 current students, charters remain mostly a principle in reality as well. They are a slowly growing option for more and more students statewide, and they represent the principle of school choice, and the possibility of doing something radically different than the traditional public school system will allow.Read More
The implication from charter school opponents is that our traditional public school system is the model for how money should be distributed. Charter schools are diverting public funds, they say, using them to serve only “some” students when this public money is intended for all students.
But isn’t that the definition of an opportunity gap? Aren’t our public schools already taking money intended for all students and distributing it inequitably?Read More
Yet again, charter schools and the principle of school choice prevailed this week in Washington’s courts.
Great, wonderful, fine, etc. This is important, but at the same time, we’ve had this conversation before. It’s time to dig deeper.
Why has all this been happening? Moving beyond talking points and rhetoric, why have people and organizations really been fighting charter schools so vehemently?Read More
What do we really mean when we talk about school choice?
It’s a much-debated idea in the education world, this idea of school choice. Just a mention of the term often has people jumping onto either side of the charter-school line in the sand.Read More
It’s not about charter schools. They’re not the point.
It’s about kids.
That’s the message I heard loud and clear at the WA Charters annual conference this past weekend. It hummed quietly like a fridge that you only notice in those moments when everything else is quiet. Like a mantra that disappears into the fabric all day long, easy to consciously miss but impossible to not soak in.
It’s not about charter schools. Charters are a vessel, not a destination. It’s about kids. It's about kids. It's about kids.Read More
Recapping the Washington State Charters Schools Association Conference morning general session:
The conference's lunch session got underway with a slip of the tongue from WA Charters CEO that tickled me as he introduced Michael Wooten, the inspiring, passionate grandparent of a young student who has found hope and a home at one of Washington's charter schools.Read More
Recapping the Washington State Charters Schools Association Conference morning general session
WA Charters CEO Patrick d'Amelio kicked off the 2018 charter conference's opening general session with a reminder of the strides Washington's school choice movement has made toward more equitable, diverse schools in just a few short years.
The Washington State Charters Schools Association Conference is this weekend, which means we get to take a look behind the curtain of the charter school movement in Washington. What are they thinking about? What are they talking about? What are their priorities and their blind spots?Read More
As 2017’s time on this earth fades to black, 2018 is waiting to take its place in the sun. As I mined through the events of 2017 — from national disgraces to local blemishes, there are many themes at a macro level that I believe will forever be attached to the year 2017: sexual assault, overt racism, and youth suicides.
Many events grabbed my attention throughout the year, but the themes that bore down and pierced my core derive from behaviors that I’d like to leave in 2017. For instance, America’s fleeting appreciation of Black women, the stance against charter schools and the families who choose them by the “oldest and boldest” civil rights organization in America, and the complicity of those witnessing egregious acts without saying a word.
By the time we reached the first floor and the elevator doors slid open, I was pretty sure I was standing next to Bob Ferguson, Washington State's attorney general. So, I asked him.
"Excuse me," I said. "Are you Bob Ferguson?"
"Yes, I am," he said.
Okay. Mystery solved. I told him my name and shook his hand.
"Thanks for doing what you're doing," I said. "You've made me feel proud to live in Seattle."Read More
Classroom teachers have always been the biggest agents for change in our education system. Most reform ideas have come from teachers, who shine a light on inequity and invent new ways of organizing schools and delivering instruction.
Teachers unions, on the other hand, are increasingly out of step with their younger members and often stand in the way of change that would both help students and support teachers. If they want to remain relevant, they should read Coggins’ book.
Today, teachers unions are stuck in an antiquated, industrial-style model, focused on working conditions, job protections, wages and benefits. We all agree teachers should be well-compensated and work in healthy, productive environments. After all, teachers work where children learn.Read More
Walk through the front doors of SOAR Academy these days and you’ll find the building teeming with life and energy, like a dream realized.
In many ways, that’s what the public elementary school in Tacoma represents: the manifestation of a set of beliefs and ideas about what’s possible in public education.
SOAR Academy’s founders sought from the outset to design a public school that would reach students being neglected by the larger system, those who are typically on the wrong end of the opportunity and achievement gaps.
Just two years after first opening its doors to students, those ideas have become a way of life at SOAR Academy, and the dreams of a nurturing, equitable school open to all have become reality for an engaged, grateful community of students and families.
“Here at SOAR we’ve seen tremendous growth and a fulfillment of the whole concept and vision of the alternatives and options that charter schools can provide in a publicly funded setting,” said Dr. Thelma Jackson, chair of the SOAR Academy Board of Directors. “Those of us that have been with SOAR from the very beginning, we’re just pleased as punch to see the school, to see the full classrooms, the waiting list. As I was driving up, just the smiles on the children’s and parents’ faces — they’re glad to be here! They’re here by choice.”
In many ways and from many angles, that’s the key word here: choice.
More than 70 percent of SOAR students identify as students of color, and Black students make up 56 percent of the student body. Fourteen percent receive special education services, and at least 12 percent are homeless or housing insecure. They all chose SOAR Academy, and they did so despite the hyper-political climate that surrounds the charter school sector.
School choice can be an especially foggy issue in Washington, where propaganda and repeated legal attacks led by the Washington Education Association — the state’s teachers union — have attempted to undermine the ability of schools like SOAR to work hard and innovate in an earnest effort to close the gaps created by our traditional public school system. In spite of that, many parents are seeing SOAR for what it is: an ambitious, free, public alternative that just might work for their student where other schools have fallen short.
“We’ve been up against so much ‘fake news’ about what charters are and aren’t, and we’re defying all of that,” Jackson said. “Anytime they say, ‘Oh, they won’t take kids of color; oh, they won’t take special needs kids; oh, they’ll cream the crop,’ [SOAR Academy] just blows the roof off of all those myths. And against all those odds, SOAR is thriving. The kids are thriving.”
Far from creaming, SOAR’S school leader Jessica Stryczek readily acknowledges that many of the school’s students arrived having already experienced such significant trauma as abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Yet thanks to a trauma-informed approach to restorative justice, not a single SOAR student was suspended or expelled last year.
In Seattle Public Schools, on the other hand, disproportionate discipline rates show up from the very beginning, as even kindergarteners of color are suspended and expelled (yes, expelled from kindergarten!) at a rate far beyond their white peers.
Seventy-seven percent of the student body at SOAR is eligible for free or reduced lunch as well, so community meals are available to all students through the community eligibility pool.
SOAR’s staff, meanwhile, reflects the diversity of its student body. More than half the staff at SOAR are people of color, Jackson says, upending yet another myth.
“The traditional line is, ‘Oh, we’d like to hire them, but we can’t find them.’ So, where are the charter schools finding [teachers of color]?” Jackson asks. “And again, they are here by choice. They’re not here through involuntary transfers and the dance of the lemons and all that stuff.”
Enough people have chosen SOAR now that the school’s journey from vision to reality is all but complete, and the early results are showing that the young charter school is delivering on its promise.
In addition to a joyful atmosphere in a building full of well-cared-for elementary students, the school is home to impressive academic rigor as well. Just last year, more than 70 percent of students showed accelerated growth, testing beyond national grade-level expectations on the STAR Early Literacy assessment.
“The concept has taken on a life of its own,” Jackson said. “The proof is in the pudding.”
For those unfamiliar, Nate is a public school teacher in Tacoma who, as far as I can tell, has been kicking ass for a long time now. In the last few years, he's really started to get noticed for it, too. He was a National Teacher of the Year finalist in 2016 after being named Washington State's Teacher of the Year, but he's much more than just an effective classroom teacher. He's also the kind of activist for racial justice and the rights of his marginalized students that I dream of every teacher aspiring to be.
Plus, he writes about nuanced issues with the kind of clarity that my overly wordy rants find themselves dreaming about at night (in overly wordy dreams).
In fact, if I was more internetty, I might have made this about myself and started this diatribe like this:
Obviously I'm not convincingly internetty, but you get the idea. Nate Bowling has written something important about the mind-numbing debate pitting charter schools vs. traditional public schools. He begins by acknowledging that many parents of students of color are choosing charter schools, and that this is a valid choice. Then he gives three critical pieces of advice for well-meaning folks who are still actively opposing charter schools:
First, Nate says, "you must address [the] concerns and motivations" of people of color who are choosing charter schools, because those concerns are real and warranted.
"The loudest, most vociferous opponents of charter schools I see are middle class, white, college educated, liberal-progressives entrenched within the educational establishment," Bowling writes. "In contrast, charter parents are typically from low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools. Understanding that dichotomy is essential."
Yes! I couldn't agree more. A failure or unwillingness to acknowledge this truth is the foundation of most misunderstandings over charter schools.
Second, he says we must "improve the experience of students of color in traditional public schools," and I'm convinced he's right about this, too. If we don't, we're essentially telling those parents to accept the unacceptable for their children. That's pretty cruel.
Finally, Nate says, "you can be right on the issue and still be wrong." This is so blisteringly important that I can't believe it hasn't been said this way before. Opportunity gaps and disproportionate discipline and teacher bias and segregation are not just abstract concepts and theories. They create realities that have intense, long-term impacts on real-life kids. So it's one thing to value public education, to see it as a great equalizer and a pillar of our society, and to view charter schools as an infiltration of private money and control, but it's quite another thing to keep people from accessing alternatives to the system when it's not working for them.
If we don't acknowledge our current gap between theory and reality, between the ideals of education in a vacuum and the realities of biased schooling in present-day America, we're leaving a lot of kids to the wolves in the name of incremental progress and education theory -- including mine. My oldest son goes to Emerson Elementary in Seattle's Rainier Beach, meaning he's literally a student of color in one of the "low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools" that Nate is describing. And I can tell you first-hand, it's not okay. We're demanding change, we're exploring all of our options, and if a charter elementary school opened up in the area, we'd probably look into switching schools.
Anyway, I'll stop now. Please read what Nate Bowling has to say. He's a smart man.
By Nate Bowling
I read too many edu arguments for my own good. It’s a known issue in my household.
The argument I find most cringe-inducing is the fight over charter schools. With the news that Secretary DeVos is coming to Seattle, I’d like to put this out there for folks.
If there's one lesson that I have learned over the last few years, it’s that you're never going to convince a black or brown mother to change her mind about where to send her child by demonizing her choices, calling her a “neo-liberal,” or labeling her a “tool of privatizers.” And since black and brown parents are the primary target of most charter operators, this presents a conundrum I want to help my (mainly white) progressive friends work through.
Before I go further, a few caveats: I’ve worked in public schools since 2006. This is by choice. I have been offered roles in teaching, as a principal, and on the board of charter operators in my state. I have declined. I consider myself a “charter agnostic.” I believe the traditional public school is the right venue for the kind of work I want to do and the student population I desire to work with. But, I don’t begrudge the choices others make for their own children.
Now that my cards are on the table, I want to give y’all some advice:
You must address their concerns and motivations: The loudest, most vociferous opponents of charter schools I see are middle class, white, college educated, liberal-progressives entrenched within the educational establishment. In contrast, charter parents are typically from low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools. Understanding that dichotomy is essential.
The ed establishment has a lot to answer for. Folks in educational spaces systematically silence, marginalize, and awfulize parents of color and their children. We can cite example, after example, after example, after (local) example. Add to this report-after-report about disproportionate discipline practices and persistent Opportunity Gaps, it shouldn’t surprise us that parents of color are looking for options and not in the mood for finger-waggy lectures on privatization. For activists this is a long-term societal-philosophical-cultural-political issue; for parents it’s an immediate, pragmatic what-is-best-for-my-child issue. You have to approach them through that lens.
Work to improve the experience of students of color in traditional public schools:In urban areas, students of color are the bread and butter of charter schools. If these students received the quality of education they deserve and were treated with the dignity afforded to white, suburban, and wealthy students, charter schools wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t attract families of color at the rates they do. If you truly oppose charter schools, the most impactful thing you can do is work to make public schools places where students of color, particularly low-income black and Latinx students, feel valued, welcomed, and loved.
Every time a parent of color enrolls their child in a charter school it's a vote of no confidence in the traditional K-12 public school system. Sooner or later we have to reckon with that.
You can be right on the issue and still be wrong: Here’s the deal, friends. You’re right about neo-liberalism and the decaying of public goods, but ain’t nobody trying to hear that from you when it comes to their child’s well-being. We all know there are awful schools and school systems out there in desperate need of transformation. The folks who are supposed to send their kids to these schools deserve better.
Whether intentional or not, sometimes it seems activists value the “institution of public education” more than they value the "outcomes of the kids within it." I don’t think this is actually the case, but this is a rhetorical misstep that parents of color see and that school choice advocates seize on.
Screeds, hot take FB rants, and 300 word newspaper comments berating folks may feel good, but they also turn potential allies into actual enemies. If you really care about public education, you’re better off standing shoulder-to-shoulder with parents of color in pursuit of fair treatment, (non-test based) accountability for teachers, better instruction, and funding equity than you are berating them in FB threads and with your Twitter fingers.
That's the real work.
Dedicated to my friends Sheree, Keith, and Korbett for putting up with more nonsense than you should ever have to about what’s best for your own children
This in-fighting has no end in sight.
While we all agree that our kids are not being treated equally, that our systems do not value us all equally, we labor and argue over exactly how and when and what to change, continuing along each day in the same systems we talk about changing, perpetuating them by our presence.
Along the way, we get distracted. We form opinions and positions. Sides and factions develop. Suddenly, we find ourselves in a little mini-struggle that most people don’t know much about. We in education are debating about the everyday lives and futures of American kids and families, and the in-fighting is costing us time and energy and money that we can’t afford to waste on each other.
For instance, some say that charter schools undermine our public education system. Randi Weingarten, head of our nation’s teachers union, actually said recently that school choice is a “polite cousin” to segregation.
Others of us contend that our public school system has already been undermined by its own failure to adapt, and that we need new and different kinds of public schools. And we remind folks that school choice really just means a belief that parents should be allowed to choose what’s best for their kids.
Things have gotten so twisted up that some folks oppose charter schools for literally the same reasons people open them. It’s weird. It would be funny, actually, except that it’s no laughing matter.
We only first started trying to force schools to integrate in 1954. That’s only 63 years ago. Think of the change in demands on the system between now and 1950. We've needed to find ways to change with it, but we’ve tended to be inflexible, rigid, afraid. Those with privilege have clung to it, resulting in a mostly white teaching force, achievement and opportunity gaps along racial lines, and generations of kids who have grown up in schools that treat them unfairly.
I see charters offering that opportunity to innovate, to consider alternatives, to serve long-neglected students (and when I say charters, I only mean public charters. For-profit charters are corporate nonsense). If we limit our schools only to operating within the same framework they always have, how can we expect them to produce different results?
Some decry charter schools as an attempt to privatize our public education system. I suppose that’s got a twisted legitimacy to it, in its way. People are basically asking, why should Bill Gates have so much influence over things?
Well, he shouldn’t — none of us should, unless it happens organically as opposed to financially.
But they’re missing the point: this isn’t Bill Gates’ influence. It’s the influence of many, many advocates and parents and students concentrated and magnified through Gates’ extraordinary wealth and power.
And here’s the extra-twisted-up part: limiting public charter schools actually does more to privatize our system of education as a whole, because you’re working to limit school choice only to those parents who can afford to exercise it. You’re setting up a profitable private school sector to thrive unchecked, and to entice a larger percentage of students than it would if there were more free public school options available.
If you want to keep as many kids in public education as possible, then you have to expand the options. Too many parents are already choosing out for us to pretend this isn’t the case.
Speaking of choosing out, we find another double-sided coin in the debate over standardized tests known as the “opt-out movement.”
Some parents say standardized tests put too great a burden on students. Others say the tests are inherently biased, written and administered in such ways that favor white students and perpetuate gaps.
They might have a point. The creator of the standardized tests himself said, “These tests are too cruel and should be abandoned.”
And on the one hand, yes! We grade and evaluate students from the very beginning as if they are products, conditioning them to judge and compare themselves to each other. We consider whether or not kids have hit our invented benchmarks at the “appropriate” times. We subject kids to hours of monotonous testing that is for the edification of adults, not the kids themselves.
Yet without those tests, we would never have had the evidence we now have of the opportunity and achievement gaps. And how do we measure progress without them? How will we know if those gaps are closing if we do away with the tests? How will we be able to prove (to skeptical white folks, mainly) what most low-income families and families of color already know from experience?
There’s no single solution. Charters, Montessori, home school, traditional public school, outdoor education, project-based learning, whatever. Families need freedom. They need high-quality, free options for their children’s education.
In the end, all the arguments about education are two sides of the same coin. So, maybe it’s something to do with the coin, you know?