By May 2, 2014 Uncategorized 6 Comments

In today’s Daily Oklahoman, we learned that the new John Rex Charter Elementary School in OKC will likely not have any trouble recruiting teachers to work in their school. Read the story here:

They have yet to be hired, but first-year teachers who go to work for Oklahoma City’s new downtown charter school will make considerably more than their counterparts statewide.

John Rex Charter Elementary School board members voted recently to pay newly minted teachers with a bachelor’s degree $40,000 in base salary annually — 20 percent more than teachers in surrounding districts earn, and nearly 27 percent more than the state minimum salary for teachers with no prior experience.

The school at N Walker and W Sheridan is set to hire 14 teachers before it opens in August. In the first year, it will offer pre-K through second-grade classes for about 300 children, adding a grade level every year up to the sixth grade.

“We have very high expectations for the teachers that we hire at John Rex,” said Joe Pierce, the school’s chief administrator. “An excellent teacher has a great impact on student achievement in the classroom. We’re trying to attract the best teachers we can find.”

Charter schools are public schools established by contract with sponsors and often promote a specific curriculum and learning style. They are privately run but publicly funded schools that emphasize small class sizes, extended hours, close student-teacher relationships and a strong sense of community.

Charters are not required to evaluate teachers the same way the district’s other schools do. Conversely, charter teachers are not protected by unions and can be fired at will for poor job performance.

Pierce, formerly the executive director of curriculum and instruction for Putnam City Schools, said John Rex board members voted to pay teachers more than area school districts because they “recognize the value and honor and importance of a quality teacher.”

The minimum starting salary for Oklahoma teachers is $31,600, according to the state Education Department. Charter schools are not required to report their salaries to the department, a spokeswoman said.

“Some (charters) pay at or below the state minimum, but most pay at or above what local school districts pay,” said Chris Brewster, superintendent of Santa Fe South Schools, a K-12 charter.

John Rex is one of 13 charter schools in the Oklahoma City district, which pays new non-charter teachers $32,925 annually, not including benefits. Putnam City Schools pays $33,750 and Edmond Public schools pays $37,107 in annual salary to starting teachers.

“It is no secret that Oklahoma teachers deserve more pay for the work they provide,” said Rod McKinley, human resources chief for Oklahoma City Public Schools. “The district is glad that the John Rex Charter School board has external private support to provide its teachers with salaries that are higher than the metro average. It is something we aspire to be able to do for our teachers, as well.”

Pierce said incoming teachers can make as much as $52,000 when health insurance and teacher retirement benefits are included. The school is also considering an incentive package for teachers based on performance, student and school achievement and evaluations, he added.

This is swell! Not only will this school receive state funding, they also have access to outside resources that enable them to recruit the best and brightest teachers from the surrounding area. These teachers will also enjoy smaller class sizes and be exempt from the onerous requirements associated with the new state evaluation system.

As we know, these types of charters also have more flexibility in selecting and retaining students. They can also impose requirements for parental involvement and withdraw students whose parents fail to meet their obligations.

My purpose today is not to debate the merits of this particular charter school. At this point, I will just wish them good luck and hope that they are able to positively impact the lives of children in OKC. It appears they have a good plan in place to make this happen.

My problem with this is what we all know will happen a few years down the road. This school will be held up as a model for what public schools should be. The reformers will tout the school’s high test scores and elevated levels of parent engagement and satisfaction. They will use this school’s achievements to promote their narrative that “similar” public schools are terrible. In short, will be told that this charter “apple” is far superior to the public school apple it replaced.

However, it is no longer the same type of fruit as the public school variety and should not be compared. It has been transformed from an apple to another type of fruit altogether.

Over the past few years, the reformers have pushed an agenda of increased parental choice, vouchers, and charter schools. In order to sustain this agenda, two predicates are necessary: (1) Public schools are failing and (2) public school teachers and leaders lack sufficient motivation to do anything about it.

As a result, we now reside in a universe of test-based accountability that uses a standard distribution to rank and sort schools. By using this approach, it is assured there will always be schools and teachers at the bottom of the distribution. This then opens the door for the replacement of failing public schools with charters, vouchers, and virtual schools. This is happening in nearly every state in the union, particular in urban centers. This is the reason used by reformers to justify schools like John Rex Elementary in OKC.

What volumes of research tells us is that there are charter schools that do a very good job. John Rex is obviously being set up to be a success.

There are also charters that are pretty lousy. And there are quite a few in the middle, no better and no worse than the public schools they supplanted. That is, IF they are required to play by the same rules as the public schools in the same neighborhood.

We’ve talked about the factory model in education forever–the little worker-bees-in-training lined up in ranks and files, learning how to plug away assembly-line style. Under this model, students were products. Teachers were the workers, our classrooms were the assembly line, and our students were the standardized “widget” we were cranking out.

However, through the implementation of NCLB and RTTT, the reformers have changed the model. Students are no longer the product. They have become the workers and the new product is test scores.

Charter schools are the most obvious demonstration of the implications of this approach. What do you do with a factory worker who doesn’t produce a good product? You fire him. What do many charter school operators do with students who won’t produce good scores? They fire them.

NCLB and RTTT now require teachers and schools to produce certain score levels to survive. As a result, we are no longer there to serve the students and provide them with the education they need. Instead, students are there to produce the scores and the data that we need to survive. If you have any doubt about this, take some time reviewing the literature on the state’s new value-added model and roster verification process associated with the quantitative components of TLE.

When “reformers” tout a student-centered approach, they don’t mean we should focus on the needs of the student– they mean we should focus on getting the student to generate the scores we need.

This is the new factory model, in which students are not widgets, but the assembly line robots. If this model persists, here are the things we can expect to see:

* Charters and private schools will continue to fire any students that fail to produce the scores they need.

* Students who can’t produce will be labeled defective. After all, if the prepared program is good, and the delivery system (high paid teachers) is good, then the only explanation for a low student score is some sort of learning defect.

* Through the use of rigorous selection processes, charter schools will continue to recruit top students from poor communities. Some public schools will have to be left open to warehouse the poor producers. Other profiteers (e.g. virtual school providers) will move in to make some money by scooping up these low performers with big promises and then ditching them after the check clears and before the test scores come in.

* Regrettably, some teachers will come more and more to see students not as their purpose and focus, but as potential adversaries. There is something profoundly damaging to a school climate when an adult’s livelihood depends on forcing a child to bubble in the answers that we need.

It is my contention that students should not be viewed as products or workers. The purpose of an education is to help children identify their passions and strengths; while developing the tools to be learners, critical thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and positive contributors to society. These qualities are rarely reflected through test scores.

We may have a need for different types of fruit to serve all students. But, let’s not pretend we are comparing apples to apples. We’re not.

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