Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Charters and the Question of Good Teaching

We have a ballot initiative here in Massachusetts to increase the number of charter schools. A highly contentious issue, at least around here. So there have been scores of pieces revolving around choice, waiting lists, privatization, funding mechanisms, and so on. One crucial issue gets little if any attention though. That is the question of what we think actually constitutes good teaching and learning, and based on that what structures will get us there. Charters mostly buy into the idea that the best measure of student achievement is results of standardized tests, thus they are structured first and foremost to get high scores. This means that they need to find teachers who also buy in. A person who is a career teacher and who has spent many years, decades even, considering what constitutes good teaching and learning, as well as the best ways to nurture the development of the child, understood holistically, most likely will not want to get on board with the charter approach -- and not because they are selfish union members, as we so often hear. Tellingly, charters are mostly staffed by very young teachers who don't have much training in pedagogy but rather are people who did well academically as undergrads and now want to give back. These people are more credulous about the testing model. Crucially, many or most of these teachers leave after a couple years. I recall my mentor teacher telling me it took him at least five years to become a good teacher. I believe him, and worry about the ways charters don't seem to get this important point.

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