about nashville

Charter Schools Will Fail in Nashville

Charter schools will fail in Nashville . . .

While I support charter schools, there is no way charter schools can, by themselves,  address the needs of the 70,000 plus students in the Metro system – at least not in this millennium.

Nevertheless, I support charter schools because i hope they can be used to teach our larger system how to better to define education, set educational goals and reach them.  Charter schools, because they are less bureaucratic, have some inherent advantages when it comes to innovation.  They can more organically “grow” communities of students teachers and parents.   They can adopt metrics of success that are not as exclusively driven by test scores.  Charter schools can re-define the role of teacher tenure.  They can set higher standards for personal conduct.  Charter schools can learn more easily.

My question is whether our large bureaucratic system can ever learn what charter schools have learned.  Can it learn how to grow a school organically – building a partnership of students parents and teachers?  Or will it forever mechanically manufacture them – making a list of students and teachers, giving them a building and then setting them about the task of memorization?  Is there something inherent in a large system that prevents school “growing”?

On the other hand are we requiring our charter schools to teach us something new about education?  We have at least one charter school that does not differ in any meaningful way from our zoned schools.  In fact, it seems to offer less than our schools that have additional Federal poverty based funding.  Allowing charter schools like this to remain undermines their very purpose.  Do we have the backbone to close down the failing charter schools?  If we don’t, then we wont have charter schools for long.

How are we assessing the innovation at charter schools?  What’s the metric?  Are the changes necessary for our system to absorb the lessons of charters too radical for Nashville? Are we strong enough to close down the failures?  Nashville’s political disposition is moderate – it’s only immoderate in its moderation.  Will Nashville make radical changes in its public education system if the charter schools prove radical change works?

Charter schools will fail in Nashville . . . unless we start to think about these questions . . . unless we are willing to reject the failing charter schools . . . and unless we are willing to learn from charters – no matter how radical the necessary change.

Finally, please do not take this post as some sort thesis on how to educate children.   While I have some opinions about educational theory, this post (mostly) relates to the politics of incorporating change into our system.  My opinion is based on my view of how our system currently works, how it incorporates change and its long -term institutional challenges. It’s up to someone else to measure what works – I just hope we can navigate a way to demand insight from charter schools and incorporate their insight into our system.

Bruce Barry deserves credit for engaging me in these questions.  http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2010/07/08/charters-and-school-reform-more-conversation-and-less-boosterism This post is mostly a response to his PITW post.


3 responses

  1. I might agree with you, but I’d challenge you to define what it is about charter schools that makes them more capable of innovation than their traditionally-organized public counterparts. I don’t think our community has done that yet.

    They might more organically “grow” communities of students, teachers and parents, but, if they do, why? Is that because they’re able to define themselves from their onset, like Lockeland Elementary has? Or is it because innovations tend to begin in lower grades and increase as students age, like we’ve tried in the academies? They might adopt metrics of success that are not as exclusively driven by test scores, but they’re still supposed to be measured by those same standards at the end of the day. They might re-define the role of teacher tenure, but in doing so, they may also change the expectation of teacher expertise and craftsmanship, pushing, at least in some instances, to use up teacher capacity as a fungible resource, burn out promising younger teachers and move on to a new batch every couple of years. (There’s certainly a line of thought to defend that– maybe we’d be better off with an intensely committed, shorter-term corps of teachers, like a military corps, who agree to tours of duty. It’s not the direction I’d like to see the profession of teaching go, but there are clearly folks who do.)

    For all that, I don’t think Nashville has articulated WHY we should believe charters are more likely to be innovative than other traditionally organized schools. Until we say out loud why we think this experiment will work, we’re not going to agree on the metric to measure its success. It may be that innovative teaching practices are enough of a goal. It may be that intensive social curricula is enough. Or that parent choice, even if the choice is for an equally-failing school, is enough to satisfy our definition. But we haven’t described what it is about charters that warrants their special class, and without that definition, they remain as elusive in the evaluation as any other Metro school.

    July 9, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    • We agree. Maybe the Chamber should evaluate?

      July 10, 2010 at 6:58 pm

  2. You should recommend that.

    July 10, 2010 at 7:18 pm