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Posts Tagged ‘charter school’

I’m not sure how late people stayed up on Wednesday night enjoying the open bar and light snack reception, but I was excited to take advantage of the hotel pool and workout room in the morning.  There is nothing like a school day that starts off with a bodyweight WOD and a mile long swim for a cash-out as the sun is rising and shining through the all glass enclosure occupied solely by me.  Instead of twenty-eight kids calling my name simultaneously for help on foreign propaganda analysis, this morning I got to just float.

View from the pool onto the Tarmac.

View from the pool onto the Tarmac.

When I made my way back to my room to shower and change, I noticed a line of zombies sifting through a buffet line.  The 147 young men dressed in business casual with heavy eyelids amidst the movable corporate art of a red umbrella gave some clue that an insurance convention was in town.  Hartford being the once famed “Insurance Capital of the World” before it wasn’t cost-effective for insurance companies to headquarter here in large numbers anymore, insurance agents are not hard to find or spot.  I’m not sure if these guys stayed up all night partying, or they just hate their jobs, but they were silent and sloppily methodical moving through line.  I actually felt the misery, wafting through the aroma of bacon grease, encapsulate me as I simply strolled by en route to the elevator.  In that moment, I was happy about two things: 1) I had worked out and had endorphins pumping so I felt really good 2) I was in an active profession where I feel everyday that the work I do matters.  That is not to say insurance agents don’t have that same feeling, I would hope that they do if that is the profession they chose, but I know it’s not for me.  I would be miserable.  Teaching is for my calling; teaching is my passion and purpose.

I'm Brian Germain and I approve most of this message.

I’m Brian Germain and I approve most of this message.

When I had packed up and gone downstairs to our group’s buffet, the energy was palpable.  Bright shining faces were excited about the trip before us and I knew that these were my people.  Maybe it was that teachers are just happy when they get to spend a school day outside of school.  Or maybe everyone was just happy because it was 9am and that is considered “sleeping in” in a profession where we all rise before the sun, most in the 5 o’clock hour.

After a relaxing flight to DC with a row to myself (which would be a theme as I got rooms to myself for the duration of the trip as well…missed bonding opportunities) we dropped bags off at the hotel and went to NEA Headquarters where the building wowed all in attendance.  The entrance was beautiful, the atrium was awe-inspiring, and even the cafeteria food was delicious.  After a quick lunch, we headed to the main boardroom on the second floor and began our day.  We were first greeted by Jim Testerman, past president of Pennsylvania’s Teacher Union and current Senior Director at the NEA Center for Organizing who has been filling that role since November, 2011.  The former 7th grade science teacher set the tone with brief opening remarks that included discussion of pushing agency fees this year.  As the new guy, I didn’t know what he meant, but as it was mentioned several times throughout the weekend, I naturally looked it up so I could have a clue.

From the NEA website, “Such a provision requires that all employees in the particular bargaining unit who are covered by the collective bargaining agreement must pay their “fair share” of dues to the union.

The premise is this: since a negotiated agreement covers all employees in a bargaining unit, and as such the benefits of the collective bargaining agreement and union representation are enjoyed by all employees in the unit, all employees should pay their “fair share” to help defray the costs associated with collective bargaining and union representation.” Source: nea.org

At its most basic, I take this to mean anyone getting union benefits needs to cough up some cash because that is both fair and the union wants more money.  Agency fees were only going to be the start to my confusion as Dave Welker who works in the Campaign and Elections Department led us through a three-hour seminar on Charter Schools.  I knew it was going to be a rough ride after he introduced himself as someone who “works on tracking the bad guys.”  It didn’t take long to decipher the union hatred toward charter schools, or maybe just this man’s hatred of them…I don’t know, I was still confused by the end.

NEA We Educate America

NEA: We Educate America.  The corporate art that was donated and proudly handing in the atrium.

According to the presentation, since 2000, John Walton of the Wal-Mart empire has pumped $1.5mil into charter schools and in the year 2010-2012 private funding for charter schools hit $266.7mil.  At first glance, I don’t see this to be a big shock.  There is overwhelming evidence to say that American public education is hurting really, really badly.  A knowledge based economy, we aren’t and all around the world, other countries are kicking our butts on PISA, TIMMS, and other comparative measures of academic prowess. When things aren’t on a good course, people innovate and experiment, that is human nature.  Think of if our ancestors stuck with dragging and pushing supplies on skids and never invented the wheel.  Trying new things is the namesake of progress and I have always seen charter schools as a way of embodying this human ideology.

Future data presented show 54% of Americans in a 2014 poll believe charter schools were “better” than public schools. One of the main problems appears to be that this is a hit on the union represented public school teacher.  Often times charter schools are skimming the best students off the top of public schools.  With continually added pressure for the strapped public systems to perform, as 1 in 20 students are now enrolled in charter schools, some districts have reported lower test scores as some of their high achieving demographic are pursuing charter options.

Two of my favorite agents for change.

Two of my favorite agents for change.

A main focus of the presentation was that charter associations often have no membership fee required, although it didn’t sound like Dave was actually too concerned with having this in place for the sake of protecting teachers, Dave was a man who followed the dollar signs.  He bashed Newman’s Own for charter school donations and called out several other companies and individuals for funding connections.  He was angry, confusing with his message and lacked a clear call to action which made him generally hard to follow.  I actually wrote in my notes about halfway through that “This guy is working pretty hard to get everyone to drink the Kool-aid, but is actually a very douchey presenter.”  I kept looking around the room to see the head nods of my colleagues which only brought further confusion.  Was this something that I just wasn’t understanding but it clicked for everyone else who was furthermore on board with this guy’s views?

I believe in peer-reviewed science and data, which one of my awesome ex-girlfriends would swoon to hear me say, but we were not presented with any of that.  What we were shown was a graph and a series of convoluted statements packed with bias that insulted our collective intelligence.  For instance, a graph of charter school growth in New England from 2002-2014 showed NY climbing quickly and CT increasing charter schools at a snail’s pace.  The shock that was sold to us was that “CT must take action to stop this from happening” and “New York and Pennsylvania [neither of which are in New England, thus making the chart mislabeled] are flooded with charter schools” and “You should be both shocked and scared by how many charter schools exist.”

To add a little perspective, because I have a Master’s Degree after all and have learned to think for myself:  NY and PA have a higher population and are simply larger than Connecticut, relatively speaking to the statistical world of proportions, they should have more charter schools and also the likelihood to see quicker growth.  Basic economic principles state that the larger the market, the larger the potential for growth. As if no one even bothered to look at the Y-axis, NY is at around 250 charter schools while CT hovers around 20. My best guess with data, is that CT has 1,179 schools so charter schools represent approximately 1.7% of the total.  New York City by itself has around 1,700 schools, but the entire state logs 6,298 according to reliable sources, which means the total percentage of charters is around 4%.  Both are but a drop in a glass of water, but I get the concern.  Even a drop of a toxic substance can do harm and if you can stop someone from introducing toxic substances in the early stages before the point of no return, that is certainly preferable.  But just what is it that makes charter schools so toxic?  The real answer is lack of transparency and public accountability.

As I ponder accountability, the frequency in which others took bathroom breaks increased.  This is what conference fuel looks like.

As I ponder accountability, the frequency in which others took bathroom breaks increased. This is what conference fuel looks like.

After spending considerable time bashing the charter system, its sub-par educators, and Teach for America Fellows, Dave ended his long brainwashing session with advocacy for Charter Teachers to join unions.  As this was completely counterintuitive to the earlier message of killing charter schools, this led me to wonder if the NEA just wants their money.  Is this just an established entity seeking to buyout a startup that threatens their vigor, not so we can utilize their strengths, but so we can pacify and ultimately shut them down?

I get it, charter schools takes funding away from public education, of which I am a part.  Teachers have less protection and they can work their tails off to be fired at any time….just like a normal job.  The opportunity to unionize and protect the rights of educators while advocating for the best routes to student success are vital.  But not all charter schools are built on a bedrock of pure evil.  At the end of the day, I care about what’s best for the kids.  Do some charter schools provide students with opportunities they might not have previously had? Of course they do! Corporate funded charter schools who have big dollars flowing through the front door are scary because they defy regulation.  In an antiquated, faltering system of education we need innovation and I think charter schools can provide a valuable service in it’s pursuit.  As a state and a nation, we can’t just keep doing things the same way and hope to get different or even better results; that is the classic definition of insanity that Confucius coined millennia ago.

Charters shouldn’t be shut down, just come under closer watch and have to follow more stringent regulations.  They can’t have the best of both worlds in keeping selection, donors, profit, and other processes secret while continuing to defy government oversight under the auspices of being “private institutions” and still getting public support and government aid for building, taxes, etc. by saying they are “public institutions.  Fall in line with one of those distinctions, and fall in line with the rules that appropriately accompany said selection.  They must operate in a more responsible manner than they are right now and from what I rotely remember from my 7th grade public education is that “Responsibility is something for which one is accountable.” (Thanks, Mr. DeLucia). The schools need to be accountable to the community they serve and not just investors.  The government must hold these schools accountable to protect the communities they serve.  Don’t shut down charter schools, they are just like kindergartners playing on the playground, they don’t know any boundaries until they are established and enforced.  Arne Duncan, when you read this, maybe think about issuing charter schools a set of common sense rules that will help serve and protect current teachers, learners and posterity.

Towards the end of the seminar’s rant, it appeared other teachers fell into the boat of angry confusion with me.  When the last question of the session asked Dave to clarify what exactly his call to action was, he responded with, “I don’t know, I guess it’s your union and you guys have to figure out what you want to do.” Thanks, Dave.  Keep tracking the “bad guys.”

Eerily empty edifice of the National Education Association, Washington, DC

Eerily empty edifice of the National Education Association, Washington, DC

To see the high resolution photo album from the trip, click here: Brian F Germain’s Flickr Account, CEA/NEA Orientation Album

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