Teaching Profession Opinion

The Weird Juncture of Teacher Appreciation Week and Charter Schools Week

By Nancy Flanagan — May 08, 2015 3 min read
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There are always genuinely heartwarming pieces posted during Teacher Appreciation Week. The best of these avoid noble rhetoric in favor of over-the back-fence observations and back-pats, parent and student and teacher to teacher-- like the fact that what teachers want most is to be trusted to do their jobs.

It would have been fun (and energizing) to write a blog about teacher professionalism this week. I could tell some powerful stories about the Teacher as Change Agent initiative, hosted by the MI Education Association last Saturday, where teachers gathered in Lansing to share the organizational and school improvement work they’ve designed and are leading.

But this--no coincidence--is also the week where we’re supposed to be paying attention to charter schools. Charter schools-- like testing, standards, data-driven this and that, not to mention “disruption"--are now a feature in just about every educational landscape. There aren’t many places where you can avoid having to “compete” with charter-school “choice” and “innovation.” Or--not to put too fine a point on it--charter school takeover of the best human and education capital in stressed cities and towns, accessing the heretofore untapped K-12 education market.

This morning, my friend, National Board Certified Teacher Mary Ellen Lowe, who teaches in a traditional public elementary school in Detroit, posted an emergency message on Facebook. Did anyone know who might help her get replacement glasses for two of her students? DPS used to provide them, but the program was cut. Medicaid provides one pair per year, but--nine-year olds are notoriously hard on glasses. She was taking the kids--who need glasses to do their schoolwork--to a commercial optical outlet, paying out of pocket, and hoped to be partially reimbursed or have the process facilitated by a community organization.

The irony of it: Mary Ellen’s school district, battered and neglected and kept afloat by courageous educators, has just been placed on the auction block by the Governor of Michigan. Charter encroachment has evidently not gone fast enough for him. Let’s get rid of these pricey teachers, push DPS debt (incurred when state-mandated emergency managers were on duty, “fixing” DPS) onto the old TPS, and clear the way for full-scale entrepreneurial education in the city of Detroit.

Hard to reconcile appreciating teacher expertise and kindness with the establishment of charter schools.

Michigan is an “old” charter state. If you want to know how a policy that began as a way to establish storefront schools to serve special needs and kids, the so-called laboratory for innovation, turned into a ripe field for sports heroes and grifters to make bank in the ed biz, look no further than the Mitten State. Detroit seems poised to be the new NOLA, in spite of a mountain of evidence that charters are not The Answer to struggling schools that serve our poorest children.

There’s actually a succession of cities considering the possibility of going in a NOLA direction (thanks, Arne!)--Nashville, for example, where in a glass-half-full take, teachers and community members joined forces to successfully push the Nashville Metropolitan School Board to adopt the Annenberg Standards for charter schools, rather than declaring open season for those who think they can educate children better (and cheaper) than the schools where they themselves were educated.

Maybe it’s inevitable. Maybe some things--the Common Core, annual testing, charter proliferation, test-based teacher evaluation--are the new normal. Here’s what NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia had to say:

Nashville parents, educators, students and community members can be proud that their city is showing real leadership by endorsing the Annenberg standards. All communities deserve transparent oversight and quality schools that serve all children. We hope to see more parents and communities across the country organizing to follow Nashville's example."

Do I wish my own state had passed strong standards for establishing charter schools, twenty years ago? Absolutely. Would it have prevented the charter school corruption and fraud in my state? Who knows?

Most of the pro-charter school blah-blah this week has the same evidentiary depth as teacher appreciation proclamations. Lots of building the future of the global economy, high and rigorous standards, creativity, dedication, personalization, modernization, yada yada.

The real teacher appreciation comes when teachers take kids to get new glasses. So they can do their schoolwork, in a disenfranchised traditional public district, on its last legs.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.