Political Ravings of a Certifiable Card-Carrying Liberaltic

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Charter Schools: the ignorance and the apathy

There's nothing that threatens American society today more than charter schools. That is not a hyperbole! You've already stopped reading, and this is precisely why the evil is so insidious. No one is concerned except members of the following groups:

1) parents of private school students who don't want to pay for private and public school.

2) fundamentalist parents who want religion not only to be allowed, but required in schools (how else do we beat morals into the children?)

3) anyone who sees an opportunity to exploit children for personal gain (you mean for-profit corporations can start charter schools? - Yes, unbelievable isn't it?)

4) parents in a poor performing district who want to give up on public schools. They believe the limited charter enrollment will prevent the poor performing students from entering their new school when the public school fails.

5) parents in a home-school group who think they should get paid just like real teachers.

The rest of you think that charter schools are a fringe element that doesn't affect you, especially if you have no children in school. It's just the next step up from home-schooling, right? Wrong!

Charter schools are paid for by you. Here's a simple example. If there are 500 students in your district and there is one public school, it's easy to see how the per student funding is calculated where the cost is almost entirely infrastructure (administration, location, furnishings, utilities, busses, cafeteria, worker benefits, etc.). If four charter schools pop up and each take 100 students from the public school, now the public school is only getting 20% of the district money. Supposedly the tax payers are still paying the same amount, but a school that was getting $2,500,000 ($5000 a student per year) is now getting $500,000 but still has about the same operating costs.

You may say that money is not important, but a good education for our children is, but this money all comes from the same place. We can't get people to vote for school bonds now. If the cost goes up, why would they be more likely to fund them? Also, who gets to decide which children deserve the "good" education. You can probably make an argument that more concerned parents should be more entitled to a good education for their child, but where does that leave all the children with uninterested parents? That's right, they'll be working at McDonald's and Wal-Mart, or going into the military where an education is not required to kill islamo-fascists.

Some people say that we need more diversity in our curricula and that charter schools offer an opportunity for innovative teaching practices and specialized programs to address individual needs. But, what limits the existing teaching practice and program is standardized testing that tests whether the teacher can prepare students for these tests. To correct the problem of individual needs we need only hire more teachers. With one good teacher per eight children, it would be difficult not to address personalized demands. Show me a school with one teacher per ten students that is failing.

Two things prevent a teacher from innovative instruction or individual attention: time and money. There are no restrictions on curricula except maybe teaching about how Jesus died so that we could have Christmas and Easter. It drives me batty that the same people who say we must praise the troops' efforts without question just because they had the courage (or lack of prosperity) to volunteer, will whine and moan about how crappy all the teachers are and how they are overpaid because they get summers off. I think we should all have ribbons on our cars saying "Support the Teachers!" That's a war we should all support. Teachers are underpaid and overworked. Well maybe we could outsource it and get a better return on the investment. Heck, why not just have robots teach all our children. It's an easy job, right?

So why do the big supporters of charter schools say they want them? Here's a list of all the benefits I could find:

* Increase learning opportunities and quality education access for all students
* Create choice for parents and students within the public school system
* Provide a system of accountability for results in public education
* Encourage innovative teaching practices
* Create new professional opportunities for teachers
* Encourage community and parent involvement in public education
* Leverage improved public education broadly
* Realize an educational vision
* Gain autonomy
* Serve a special population
(If I missed any, please let me know and I'll cover them here)

I'm all choked up, but let's take these one at a time:

1) Increase learning opportunities and quality education access for all students

The underlying hypothesis of this statement is that lots of charter schools will be created in places where the public school system is inadequate, offering all students better opportunities, or simply that all public schools suck, so any alternative would be an improvement. Unless there's a one-to-one ratio of charter school to public school, this can't be an opportunity for all students. So this should really say, "opportunities for a very few students." If you believe that a bunch of amateur (non-certified potentially uneducated) teachers along with a group of probably inexperienced administrators can put together a school with no oversight that performs better than public schools that have been in place for decades where millions of teachers have come together to create a system and curriculum that works (and it does work!), then sure, these few students are probably getting a little more attention and a slightly better education. There are cheaper ways to make this education even better with the existing public school system.

Also, why would better teachers migrate to the charter schools if they don't have to be certified (have a specific education), and the charter determines the salary, so they will probably make less. Just the attraction of less students per class, or is it the autonomy? I doubt that teachers would have more autonomy in a charter school.

2) Create choice for parents and students within the public school system
This is not within the existing public school system. This should say "with the public school system's money." They want to create a parallel system that shares the same money, but doesn't have the same oversight. This choice is available now in private schools, so to rephrase this bullet point it should say, "Create a choice for parents that want to send their kids to private school where they don't have to pay for both private school and public school", or more concisely, "Let taxpayers pay for my kid's private school." So it is about the money after all.

3) Provide a system of accountability for results in public education
The argument here is either that autonomy keeps the diseased public school administration rules away from these efficiently-run personalized academies, or that when parents start abandoning public schools for these glorified home-school cabals it will force the public schools to rethink their strategies creating accountability by proxy. It seems odd that a group of people powerful enough to lobby for laws enabling these institutions in forty states with over 3600 schools and over a million students would have to resort to creating a parallel system that "works" as opposed to fixing the allegedly obvious problems in the cancerous public school system. This makes me think that the reason they want charter schools is not because the public school system is broken which makes sense since it isn't.

4) Encourage innovative teaching practices
Because, of course, we don't encourage innovative teaching practices in our public schools. I'm all for using my child as a guinea pig to try out new teaching methods, but again if the reason is the supposed deficiency in public schools, I still think we should try less students per teacher before we start the holistic efforts. I would like to see some of these innovative techniques attempted by a single teacher with thirty-two 6-year-olds. The sad part about this is that our public schools really do encourage innovative teaching practices, mostly because they have to with the large class sizes and the unfair testing that judges (1) teacher's performance by (2) student's progress. Two things that cannot be measured, period.

5) Create new professional opportunities for teachers
Something besides teaching? That scares me. I guess they're saying public school teachers are not professionals, but the (potentially) uncertified, uneducated, unexperienced charter school teachers are.

6) Encourage community and parent involvement in public education
Because everyone knows that our public schools are prison farms that don't allow the community or parents to get involved. What? If their child could go to a new school without low-income students, maybe they wouldn't be afraid to get involved with the school? Or maybe they are scared to volunteer in a secular environment where the crutch of Divine Guidance is missing.

7) Leverage improved public education broadly
I left this one in here because it's on a major charter school web-site as a benefit and the only explanation I can come up with is that since charter schools can be "for profit" corporations or backed and run by "for profit" organizations, that they might be able to leverage the corporate lobby system that plagues our government budget bureaucracy. I guess education pork is a term that would be new to us all.

8) Realize an educational vision
There are many visions that could fall into this category. The vision of segregation (poor vs. privileged mostly), the vision of religion in schools, the vision of cheaper private schools, the vision of destroying the department of education (AKA school reform), the vision of paying non-certified teachers a baby-sitter's salary in the "for profit" alternative schools in low income areas. Realization of these visions is very important to a few influential people. They probably have lobbyists and PR guys. But with a profit motive, the corruption influence will probably go away.

9) Gain autonomy
Autonomy means no oversight. Self supervision created Enron, WorldCom and the wonderful response to Katrina this year, but this is probably the one application where it would work. I guess this means autonomy by the parents because all parents know what's best for their children and it works so well when they get involved in the administration of education. If only those public school teachers would listen to the advice they get in parent-teacher conferences, the whole system would be fixed.

10) Serve a special population
Wasn't this one supposed to be a secret? How did they let the segregation bullet get out on the public site? --- But really, I guess they are probably talking about schools offering special art programs, or physical education programs. Remember when these used to be in public schools. Conservatives in the 80's said they were superfluous, but now we think they should be funded by taxpayer money through charter schools. This is like the conservatives telling you that they will outlaw abortion if you vote for them. It's there to attract a specific audience, but the promises will always fall short.

When I think about this, it just about makes my head explode, but taken in context with all the other crazy things going on in this constitutional theocracy, it shouldn't be surprising. Illegal wars, sanctioned genocide, war profiteering, fear mongering, jingoistic xenophobia and apartheid, oil and defense robber barons, borrow and spend corporatocracy, waiting for the rapture to beam us out of this polluted hell-hole we've created. That's America. Can't we take it back and fix it again? It used to be such a nice place, but these new charter schools will churn out super-smart kids that will fix all these problems in about twenty years. Thank you charter schools! What would we do without you?

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Right to Privacy

Boo Hoo! The Patriot Act wasn't killed in Congress this week, but anyone out there who thinks they might stop spying on us if it's illegal should reconsider. The only place you have a right to privacy is in court. You can take someone to court for outing a secret or uncovering an embarrassing habit, or you can claim that evidence isn't valid to prosecute because it was private (even if it's true). But the police are still going to spy on you. They may be more brazen about it if it's legal and say "What are you going to do about it?", but my guess is that's what they'd say regardless.

What are you going to do about it? How about create a religion around it. We already have a religion where Santa watches over us all the time and if we're good or bad we either get treats, or coal in the next life. Well, here's a real Santa watching over us all the time. He knows if you've been good or bad. He knows what porn you like and where you get your drugs. He knows if you're cheating on your spouse, or if you're just stealing cable or copying CD/DVDs. And mostly he just sits back and collects it all in a giant database. All praise NSA the all knowing God of WWW. W? Where have I seen that letter before. Hmmm.

But really, it's like any law. There's a law against murder, but how many murders were there last week? Answer: More than the average week during the Clinton administration. You like murder, vote Republican. Check the statistics. So the law is there to protect the individual's right after the fact. If you murder me, then I (or my proxy) can take you to court and in criminal cases you could go to jail, and in civil cases you could give me (or my proxy) some money (hopefully my proxy wasn't in on it). It doesn't prevent the act, but hopefully it discourages it. But even that is not the reason we love "justice". Justice is a balance of good against the bad and in the case of capital punishment, a balance of more bad against the bad.

The right to privacy is one of our fundamental rights, but don't think your neighbor is not peeping in your window, or the police aren't listening to your phone calls, because it ain't gonna stop that. So be good because they are watching and we all know the only reason to be good is not to get caught being bad.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Not Well-Prepared For Terrorism

Extra! Extra! This just in... If you were starting to feel like we might have succeeded in making terrorism a simple nuisance like prostitution and illegal gambling, well think again. You should be scared. Very scared, because the latest report says that we are not ready for another attack. Not ready? We've spent thousands of dollars and gutted the Federal Emergency Management Agency and practically sacrificed our child New Orleans to the gods in hopes of protecting ourselves from these evil Islamofascists sent from Allah to destroy Christmas, but to no avail. We are all going to die in a fiery plague because we've become secular (translated as Godless in the GOP) anarchists who allow our activist judges to take the legislation of morality out of our representative theocracy.

But let's not stray off topic. We are supposed to be scared. If we would just cringe in fear and terror, then they wouldn't have to frighten us more with the hurricanes, the bird flu and the terrorists. You ask why they can't just build a 20 foot wall around our entire nation. This is America. We should be able to put that great wall to shame if we just get some Mexicans to build it for us. What would that cost? $50 plus materials? And if we paid them in Canadian dollars, that would be about the price of a soda. Then wouldn't we all feel safe?

But no, the reason we will never see a real wall is that they don't want to invest in making us safe. They only invest in making us scared. If you start to feel safe, then they've failed. The upshot is we don't really need to be protected so it's good that we're not spending a lot of money on this, but the bad part is that we are spending a lot of money on the corruption infrastructure that is built around this idea called homeland security. Here's some more sacrilege; It should have been anticipated earlier, but we protected ourselves from the threat of September 11, 2001 by adding a $50 lock to the pilot cabins on all commercial aircraft. No more planes flying into things. Fixed!

What else do we need protection from? We need protection from a government that keeps us under control with fear. That protection comes from transparency. The magic word that would have won an election for Democrats in 2004 (even though it was rigged.) With transparency there can be no duplicity. Why is there no honor in our government? Culture of corruption sounds too cute. Cancer of depravity or ulcer or lesion or something rotten and disgusting. I would say evil, but it's not based on anger or spite or wickedness as much as simple greed, arrogance and the fear that someone will find out that they are inept. If greed is evil, then we are all guilty of it to some degree, but they have no shame or humility mechanisms to limit the extent of their corruption. It's either ego, or the belief that they've gone so far that they have to keep lying and cheating and killing until they get caught.

What is the future of this country? I am scared for my children's sake, but not of the terrorists.