October 03-2018

Charter School Myth

1) 'How do I get into a good school?' a young 11 year-old girl asked President Obama at his inauguration in 2008. He bit. I want all children to have access to good schools, this pretentious lawyer of a President announced. So?...what do you do with the bad schools when all the good students get out....?

2) A puerile article from an U.S. writer which shouldn't have appeared in such as the Epoch Times wrote glowingly of the Charter School System which AB appears to be accepting in limited numbers. The Fraser Institute is the main source of charter school promotion  in Canada as being more productive in academics and cheaper to operate as exampled by the U.S.

3) The balkanization of U.S. Schools - mainly according to economic means - is something which should be avoided like the plague in Canada. On cruises, I ask U.S. teachers for their comments. Large cities have teacher unions while their rural counterparts have no unions leading to a great disparity in teaching. One female black teacher after 3 years retirement from an inner Washington D.C. school still found it too difficult to talk about. 'Are there guns in the school,' I asked? 'Of course', she responded with a baleful look.

4) Canadian professional teachers all belong to the Union so that as a 16 year Supply Teacher in Ottawa calling at one time or another at all secondary English schools, one did not hear the phrase 'good and bad schools'. Of course there were academic differences but vocational schools focused on a different skills set.

5)The Charter School Myth suggests that all these schools are academic successes as shown by test results. In AB, charter schools are limited to 15 and must hire qualified teachers and be open to all students (yeah, right! In Vancouver, a lottery system exists for students wishing to get into the public French Immersion system.)

6) 'Tests test tests'. Public School teachers try to avoid the testing years of Grade 3 and 6 for they take time out to 'teach to tests'. (Sample question: 2 plus 3 bananas= __; actual test question: 2 plus 3 apples=__) In one case, a school let students take home a government test and to return it the next day.

7) Large private schools survive by paying their teachers on the same scale as public teachers. Their results are superior in that they assign free scholarships to top public school students and encourage weak students to take advantage of special needs courses 'only available in public schools'. The difference for teachers is that in private schools, extracurricular activities are mandatory (for students as well) while in public schools teachers volunteer their efforts. Students are not pressured into participating in extracurricular activities. The advantage of the large school is that they can offer a variety of courses not available to small charter schools.

8) Even here there are problems. A private West Vancouver Band established itself in the community drawing the best players away from the three high schools leaving the latter with a weakened program.

9) The major advantage to the small charter school is that students subject to bullying which is all too common in the larger school may escape this debilitating threat.

10) The big savings for small charter schools would appear to be in salaries...or is it? By hiring only beginning teachers, they may avoid the costs of a senior teacher  at twice the salary. This pattern developed in the 1950's when, due to low pay, the teacher pay scale was kept deliberately low on entry and topped up for those whom remained in the profession. At one time, that scale took 14 years but has been reduced considerably (8 years?). It takes about 5 years for a teacher 'to find his or her footing' hence you can expect teachers to desert the charter school for the public field when they have family responsibilities requiring the higher paycheck.

11) As to over-all economics, the cost of running schools in the past decade has doubled at a time when the student population has remained static. That is unsustainable. Critics are inclined to blame high teacher salaries as the major source of conflict. Considering that there have been few hires in recent years, the system has been top heavy with senior teachers.

12) That situation is now reversed. Vancouver city, for example, cannot get teachers to move there due to high real estate costs. No teacher wishes to be marooned in a depopulated rural area as his or her seniority will bar them from being hired elsewhere when their rural schools close down. This is a major problem across Canada.

13) All across North America, teachers are vacating the profession due to the fact that unruly students are not being disciplined. My advice to young University graduates is to stay away as the situation is going to get a lot worse even if someday it does get better.