Monday, January 11, 2010

Teacher Defends Small Schools and Others Respond

A teacher emailed GEM asking for a correction to a leaflet that he felt equated small schools with charters. Here is the original and some reactions:

I received an email from GEMnyc supporting a protest of school closures. I agree with everything in the email, except for the inclusion of small schools in the statement below:

"The little known secret behind charter schools and small schools is that they steal the highest achieving students from district schools, and turn away ELL, Special Education, and struggling students."

I work at a small school. Our incoming class of students were all level 1 and 2. We are just as frustrated as other schools regarding the siphoning away of higher level students by selective schools, whether they be charters or others. The issue is not with the size of the school, but the selectivity of the school. Why should some schools be able to select their students and others not?

Please correct this error. It is hard enough to defend the existence of our school without misinformation being propagated by the "good guys."


I disagree w/ this.
I understand that there are dedicated teachers at small schools, who are doing a great job and are equally frustrated. However, the 'attack' or criticism is not on individual small schools, but the strategy of using small schools to dismantle and undermine public education. Small schools, in the larger context, are a piece in the privatization puzzle.

I do think there is a context here for that statement in that the small schools movement has been as much a political one as educational if not more. If the charter school cap gets lifted many of them will be swept away too. I think we need to figure out ways to create small school environments within larger structures. That will not happen unless more power resides in the hands of teachers.

I tend to agree. The small schools are not the same as charters. More nuanced wording is needed by us. Since there are ways in which the small school movement is supporting privatization and union busting, but, like he says they are also suffering much the same fate as other schools at the hands of charters etc.
I think an important point is that breaking up a big school into smaller schools doesn't fix it. I started at my school while it was a [large high school] during the time it was being phased out for being a "dangerous" and "failing" school. The folks in the [wehite upscale] neighborhood couldn't wait to get their hands on the school (there is a racist element to this which I won't get into now). Once it was restructured. Long story short - [the old school] hasn't been in the school for at least 4 or 5 years and if you ask the folks who have been there for 20-30 years, things were BETTER under [the old school]. More discipline, more classes being offered, tech classes (auto shop, for example), a bilingual program. And now my school, I fear, could be on Bloomberg's chopping-block. We suffer from the same "failings" as many of the other schools that are being closed - declining enrollment, F's on Student performance, C's and D's on our report card, etc. Making a big school small doesn't fix the problems. What breaking up a big school does is divide an conquer the teachers in a building, weaken the chapters, and if Bloomberg gets his way, gets rid of senior excessed teachers.


lycophidion said...

I agree that it is necessary to distinguish between small school and charters. First of all, smaller, alternative schools (such as Central Park East) long preceded the charter schools effort. They represented efforts at providing a more compact environment for students who want or need it, and providing innovative, often theme-based, or specialized curricula, WITHIN public education. That last point must be contrasted with charters, which represent efforts to privatize education. However, the alternative schools movement must ALSO be contrasted to the "business model" of education, which, in fact, was first applied in the large schools: piecemeal, at first, then as a whole program. The business model is no less a privatization effort than the charter schools. I've taught in both "factory" schools (Seward Park High School, Park West High School -- both of which were broken up into smaller schools -- and Art and Design H.S.) and alternative "boutique" schools (Bronx Regional, Schomburg Satellite Academy, Bread and Roses), and they ALL had strengths and weaknesses, but the bottom line is that they were ALL under attack by the Board of Education (when I stopped teaching h.s., it was still that), ALL being forced within the "business model," employing it's shibboleth of standardized testing, etc., ALL seeing their budgets cut (which, in fact, hurt the small schools more). My son is in a small PUBLIC school, one of that earlier generation of alternative schools, and I am extremely satisfied with his education.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading and posting from San Francisco, where our school district technically has a "Small Schools by Design" project. I say "technically" because there's really not much happening with it.

My kids' high school is a small school, though not officially part of the Small Schools by Design project. I appreciate the benefits of its small size and all that, though I can also see the drawbacks (mainly fewer course offerings and fewer teacher choices).

While SFUSD also doesn't have much of a charter presence, there is a fair amount of overlap between the Small Schools by Design advocates and the charter community here. More significantly, they have at times employed the same tactics -- adopting a belligerent "we're better" attitude and bashing the (other) public schools. This has lessened greatly recently, but I think that's largely because activists like me were aggressive in calling them out for it, and thanks to the Internet we now have a forum to do it.

The "we're better" claim didn't really hold up, since San Francisco's lone non-charter Small School by Design high school (June Jordan Small School for Equity) is consistently the district's lowest-performing school. There's one Small School by Design charter school (Leadership) that's also not very successful; its achievement results and popularity have dropped steadily year by year from a once-strong start.

It's also notable that our district's largest high schools are its most successful, in terms of achievement and popularity (SFUSD is an all-choice district, so the demand for a school is a meaningful way to gauge its success).

There was an effort by the Coalition for Essential Schools to start another small high school here, the Bayview Essential School of Music, Art and Social Justice, that fizzled after it failed to get enough applicants to open two years in a row. I know that CES has an admirable record and history and good intentions, but disparaging misinformation about our district's existing schools was used in the effort to get the Bayview school going. The CES people involved were not part of our school community and may well have been misinformed, but that's rather a problem in and of itself. The whole thing was very distressing and I'm really not sure what to make of it all.

caroline said...

Sorry, that post wasn't intended to be anonymous; not sure what's going on with the technology here. -- Caroline Grannan, San Francisco public school parent, volunteer and advocate