Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lessons from Foundation Academy's Success

A recent article in the Trenton Times on the success of Foundation Academy Charter School shows that some urban charters can in fact produce the results envisioned by those that designed the initial legislation. I'll reserve comment about their methodology, but the one thing I want to point out is that if their is some strategy at the root of their success, then it is incumbent on the Academy and public school leaders to sit down and share these "keys;" this is also what was envisioned by those that created charter schools in New Jersey. Charters were to be laboratories that we could learn from, and then use those ideas to improve the schools attended by the vast majority of students.

Choice, privatization, and charter schools are all ideas borne of frustration with the horrific condition of learning in urban public schools. They also reflect a philosophy that it is individual families rather than the whole population of public school students that should drive education. This is fine to a point. The bottom line is that these schools will never be able to serve enough students to make a dent in the overall public school system. We need solutions that will improve learning for EVERYBODY, not just a select few.

It is for that reason that I have been espousing the belief that all public schools be given the opportunity to "turn into" charter schools, with the academic freedom that comes with it. By liberating our schools, injecting some entrepreneurial spirit into education, finding a new corps of passionate and intelligent teachers, adding performance into their pay scheme, and designing curricula that is more closely tied to the needs of young adults that will need to be financially literate, in possession of marketable skills, culturally aware(both past and present), and equipped to make intelligent decisions regarding their health, their environment, and their government.

I realize that, given current and past performance in these schools, that people are understandably skeptical about giving educators more academic freedom, but I am not talking about just leaving them alone. "Liberated" teachers will need sound, practical supervision and a great deal of accountability in exchange for that freedom. But we need to stop micro managing their profession with evaluation rubrics and metrics that are overwhelming in every sense of the word.

The point must again be made that the path we are on and the policies of our political leaders and education experts ARE NOT WORKING. Something new, something radical, and something comprehensive- that looks for solutions in the community and not just in the schools- must be considered now, not later. The problem is that solutions this dramatic will require those in control to relinquish some of that power, and this is rarely accomplished in our political climate.

I've termed my ideas radical, but frankly they are quite conservative and somewhat libertarian; I want to drastically decentralize education AND give those "in the trenches" greater freedom to experiment and greater freedom to teach what they want.

We will only solve this crisis when we correctly identify this problem as a national emergency and devote the resources and intellectual energy (creative and critical thinking to problem solving) it demands. Let's hope it is soon.

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