In the final stretch of the charter school amendment battle, I am going to run a few more pro and con pieces.
Here is the con from high school educator Ian Altman of Athens. Stay tuned for a pro piece shortly.
By Ian Altman
Georgia voters will decide next week on Amendment 1 and whether to allow a politically appointed commission in Atlanta to override elected boards of education. Hence, they will be deciding whether to let millions of their tax dollars evade the respectability of their provenance by enriching the lives and moral self-regard of the billionaire Koch brothers, professional disparager of teachers Michelle Rhee, and Walmart heiress Alice Walton, among other mega-donors outside of Georgia who are dissatisfied with the vintage of our state constitution.
The mellifluous promises of these white collared carpetbaggers would have us believe that the best interest of our kids is in the fragmenting of the public interest through the proliferation of for-profit charter school choices.
Their motivations are the same as those of the Milton Friedman shamans and Ayn Rand snake charmers and Lehman Brothers flat-earthers whom we assumed to know how to behave like adults, who would burn my salary in half a month’s worth of private jet fuel, and who left us high and baked in a desert economy from which they tell us we’ll never emerge if our students don’t learn the proprietary programming language to fix the pecuniary wings of our bumbling financial Icarus.
The business of learning is to be transmogrified by high-rent holy writ into the learning of business. In 2007, as now, I’d rather have had impoverished kindergarteners, who at least remember our lessons about sharing, handle my money.
Accordingly, I decline to accept that there is no longer such a thing as a common good which finds among its highest expressions a public school system. Under the control of elected boards which are accountable to voters, our public schools have, when we account for variables such as poverty to compare apples to apples instead of to pepperoni, kept achievement standards just as high as Singapore, Shanghai, Finland, and any other place a charter school company stockholder will point to as ostensible proof of a crisis.
You will not hear that from them because without that crisis, their product sits on the shelf like an ineffably gaudy chandelier, spun out of the poor imagination of the Gates Foundation – that Gatsby of educational theory – and discarded because it’s not bright enough.
None of this is to deny that public schools have problems. I live with those problems every day and know them far better than any politician, think-tank analyst, or armchair sociologist. The issue, however, is that the problems the apostles of for-profit charter schools would solve are not those we actually face, which nearly everyone who is both honest and serious in education research knows to be caused by poverty and exacerbated by the other private part of the education industry: the ship-boarding privateer proprietors of our standardized tests like McGraw-Hill and NCS Pearson, the latter of which writes Georgia’s tests. Every year they bring out from their opaque autoclaves these testing instruments which are as monkey wrenches for the performing of brain surgery, and every year we struggle to analyze the results which any competent teacher could have predicted without the extra consultants’ fees and the insult to our students’ dignity.
What do these tests have to do with the charter schools amendment, you ask? The two issues are the two sides of a silver coin proffered to buy away our trust in the very idea of the public as such, complimentary acts of skullduggery that undermine on the one hand the project of public education and on the other the professionalism of its employees.
Students in my literature classes read Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” and learn to separate the moral awareness of the narrator from the emotional awareness of the protagonist, understand the celestial rhetoric of Romeo and Juliet in relation to the earthy vulgarity of Mercutio, write analyses of the logic of competing editorialists’ views of Arizona’s ban of ethnic studies courses, and reflect on the theft of history as rendered in August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.”
Such learning is difficult, emotionally unsafe, politically unstable, necessary for the mold-breaking lives of free-thinking citizens in a democracy, and utterly unrelatable to the choice of A, B, C, or D on a sterile scantron sheet. Whatever it is those tests measure or purport to measure, it just isn’t that important.
Many for-profit charter school curricula are bought and paid for in accordance with the wishes of the industry that designs their assessments. In other words, they pay and are paid to institutionalize that anesthetizing practice which we in the public schools have tried so hard to resist: teaching to the test.
Students can watch a video of a lecture on a computer and spit answers back at a computerized multiple choice test without having a teacher at all. That is exactly the model some for-profit charter schools use, and those are the charter schools Amendment 1 is designed to attract, as evidenced by the many thousands of dollars those companies have poured into Georgia from outside to influence our vote. It is a high-tech version of a 2,000- year old practice, and it is meant to save money, not kids.
There are plenty of good charter schools in Georgia already, and more no doubt will be approved by local boards of education, but we do not need a commission to force communities to have for-profit charter schools designed to siphon Georgia taxpayers’ money through proprietary canned curricula, textbooks, computer programs, and other materials specifically wedded to those curricula, and mind-numbing assessments, to companies outside of Georgia which will sell the package at a premium and call it a revolutionary success when it will in fact be the death of truly critical thinking.
Parents and voters need to realize what they’re really asking for if they vote “yes” to Amendment 1. They will not like many of the results of these new choices, and many of their kids will languish horribly if the amendment passes. The real solution to our public school problems is two-fold. First, make responsible social policies that do more than pay lip service to fighting the vitiating academic consequences of poverty. Second, hire the best teachers with the best academic learning and pedagogical training available, pay us properly and give us the resources we need, and get out of our way.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog