Monday, February 16, 2009

Sorting at Charter Schools

It's nice to see one of our blogging buddies The Perimeter Primate, a public school parent in Oakland, getting more recognition. I've been intending to write more about what I have termed the 35% rule. In my years of teaching, about 35% of the children I worked with were pretty much on grade level, mostly with parents who seemed more involved with their education than the other 65%. The 35% came from more 2-parent homes and generally had less poverty levels, though we had almost 100% free lunch kids. These are the kids who end up in charter school in inner city neighborhoods, leaving the other 65% to the public schools.

We used to do the sorting through homogeniously grouping classes based on reading scores and teachers rotated each year from top to middle to bottom (when the contract was followed, which it wasn't in my school). In essence, then, we had a mini charter school effect on each grade. Thus, one year I was an amazing teacher and the next year I sucked.

PP has some amazing insights into all this from a parent on the ground.

Caroline Grannan, SF Education Examiner, is focusing some attention on these insights.

In the next couple of days I’m going to feature two posts from the education blog The Perimeter Primate that I think are particularly insightful. The blogger is an Oakland resident who is a veteran public school parent and a former staff member at a diverse public school.

Yesterday she blogged about a letter she wrote to Dr. Elijah Anderson, an African-American Yale sociology professor who wrote the book “Code of the Street,” about the culture that separates “street” from “decent” people in the marginalized inner-city.

Dr. Anderson called her in response to the letter, and she also reported on her conversation with him.

PP wrote:
One reason "Code of the Street" was so fascinating to me was because of your [Dr. Anderson] insights about "decent" and "street" families. I recognized the two types immediately. Here in Oakland, I suspect the charter schools are being sought out by decent-oriented families in part in an attempt to provide their children an escape from street-oriented school mates and the havoc at school which they often cause. The resulting effect is the increasing stratification of students, school by school.

My notion is that the low-income Black parents who seek out charter schools for their children are a specific type, the type who is more likely to stress the importance of education to their children and to support the mission of the school in their homes (= “decent”). I believe that their children are more likely to end up with greater academic achievement than the children who happen to have been born to parents who lack enough of that focus.

To enroll a child in a charter schools requires more forethought, effort, research and consideration on the part of the parent. This makes the population of charter school families a self-selected one. Charter schools prefer to deny this, but I know for certain it must be the case.

So, I am beginning to envision an inner-city school landscape where charter schools appear more and more successful simply because they collect and concentrate the children of “decent” families. Additionally, they become the recipients of large donations from philanthropists because they appear to be educating inner-city minority children more effectively than the regular public schools. It is rarely admitted that the charter schools and the regular schools have an increasingly different population of families.

Read every delicious morsel at The Perimeter Primate.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

What do you think about Bloomberg's plan to "RENT" catholic school for charter schools.
Copied from the NYTIMES

"Published: February 7, 2009
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn unveiled a proposal on Saturday to convert four Roman Catholic schools singled out for closing into public charter schools, an 11th-hour lifeline meant to preserve the education provided in the buildings and stave off potential overcrowding in city schools."

Is Bloomberg trying to outfox Bishop DiMarzio? Or does he just want the good students from the catholic schools?

The Perimeter Primate said...

Hi Norm,

I've often wondered about those types of percentages as they relate to school dynamics.

One middle-school teacher I knew told me that if she had three highly disruptive kids in her class (~10%), they could easily send the class into chaos.

In an unrelated conversation, a school security officer for that same 1000-student struggling, chaotic middle-school said that if the school could ever get rid of the 80 to 100 kids who made daily life so difficult for all, then the climate at the school would be entirely different. I thought to myself about that being ~10% also.

Of course my survey wasn't exactly scientific, but I also think a tipping point must exist, even for an experienced teacher.

As a veteran school teacher, what are your thoughts?

Unknown said...

I was not working in the system when the '600' schools existed, but it seems to me that the public schools in the city are turning into the old 600 schools.

ed notes online said...

Some say the system as a whole deeteriorated when 600 schools were abolished. There are many who would make the point that some type of humane 600 school system might be useful. A lot of kids with emotional issues need extreme care and feeding. I was watching the Wire 4th season where they put all the difficult kids on one classroom with a bunch of adults.

ed notes online said...

It is hard to pin down a number and saying 10% is a sort of digital way of looking at things, as kids tend to vary some depending on teacher, class size, home life at the moment.

There is probably a hard core group that as the years go on tends to grow. I never found these kids a big issue but then again my major years of self-contained classroom teaching was from 1969-1985 before the effects of the crack epidemic really hit my grades and when there was the special ed classes as an out. I found almost all regular ed kids could be reasoned with in terms of behavior, though not always in getting them to do the academics.

I also found that even if you took out the 3 kids, some teachers would find another 3 to complain about.