What's so bad about a charter?
Original post made
by Optimist, Old Palo Alto,
on May 7, 2007
What's so bad about a charter? Is PAUSD so fragile that a charter will destroy us?
I'm genuinely puzzled by the debate.
I've read the State Education code. MI is a textbook case for a charter. Yes, there's some complexity about per-pupil funding in a basic aid district, but it's not substantially worse than the complexity in a revenue limit district. It won't divert many resources and the arguments about out-of-district enrollment seem well a bit xenophobic. I don't see how an MI charter will meet some Ed Code diversity requirements, but I expect the organizers to take on the challenge and comply with the law.
MI choice seems to me like the worst of all worlds. No curriculum, no textbooks, low community priority. Administrators who are letting their enthusiasm get ahead of their knowledge and experience. Community uproar. Let's embrace a charter and move on.
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 8, 2007 at 5:47 pm
Let's start with the management structure at PAUSD. It's decidedly top-down, and far from the model that many current, forward-looking, public and private organizations have today.
There is little in the way of idea and initiative cross-fertilization among site administrators, teachers, and senior executives. Rather, it's a huge institutional football, kicked to-and-fro by come-and-go BOE members, come-and-go senior exectives, and small groups of parents with agendas. And we all pay for this.
This isn't to say that all most organizations operating in the 21st century don't have reporting structures, or that they run by themselves - they don't. It's more to say that the administration of public education hasn't changed very much in the last half century.
Also, the administrative curriculum that senior administrators engage is decidedly weak compared to what executives in the private sector face. K-12 education in America is a kind of ghetto for automatic administrative promotion at the senior level, with very little accountability.
Add to this the fact that we include an elected BOE in the mix as a variable - a big variable, because senior executives within PAUSD (and other districts) work at the BOE's pleasure. Think about the further weirdness as BOE's change over, with standing Superintendents in place; even more weirdness results.
Comparing this with the board structure of many comtemporary public and private organizations, there is a clear structural flaw - with every district having a rotating BOE (elections every so many years), and careerist bureaucrats (said with respect) having to "get along" so that they can "move along" to their next "assignment" (every 5 or so years, hence).
Where this all falls down in comparison to more efficient structures is that every district sees itself as a discrete entity - in teaching AND operations. there is simply no incentive to look for extra-district ways to create _significant_ operational or teaching efficiencies. The whole system - nationally, and locally - simply continues on its merry way, at a snail's pace _because_ there is no real incentive to change the way things are.
The "ignorance is bliss" factor is very hard at work in this scenario, because unlike 30-50 years ago, when many nations were catching up from the destruction visited on them in WWII, there are now many countries that surpass American K-12 educational quality, including education in districts as highly regarded as PAUSD.
Our kids are going to pay a big price for this ineficiency and political football, down the road, as the new "flattened" world permits trans-border skill mobility as never before. For instance, 1 in 3 new residents in Silicon Valley are from another country. One would think that meant something to educational administrators and BOE's, as they squabble over political means to political ends, but it doesn't appear to phase anyone.
The MI program is a perfect example of a half-baked solution to this problem. Parents want to set up a lottery system that will educate a lucky few. Is that efficient?
And why should K-12 educational bureaucracies change? Heck, BOE members simply fade into the background after they term out, or use their BOE experience to seek further political office. What penalties do you see out there for poor performance by a Superintendent? Virtually none. Most simply continue jumping from district to district, until they retire, regardless of performance. It's an "old boy" network, including the same old tired consulting firms that are hired ad nauseum to look in the same places for the same kinds of people to run districts that are virtually indistinguishable - in terms of operational and curricular policy - than they were 40 years ago.
What private corporation (or modern-day, forward-looking non-profit) would continue to look askance at opportunities to create extra-corporate efficiencies? American K-12 school systems almost _never_ do this. That's an opportunity constraint for our kids in tomorrow's world.
I'm _very_ pro public education. That said, we _must_ find ways to make educational districts far more transparent and inclusive, and at the same time less political. We _must_ insist that teachers and site administrators are heard when it comes to thinigs like MI. We shuold also include membership of the latter on the BOE, so that the current one-sidedness disappears, and the BOE has some members with on the ground experience in education - instead of the current situation, which is little more than a popularity contest preceded by campaign promises that can't be kept.
Look at the MI fiasco. Teacher and site administrator inputs were all but unheard. Instead, we had a motivated group of well-meaning people who used a well-worn political process to try to have their way with PAUSD - our _kids_ learning environment, where teachers and site administrators work _every day_, face-to-face with those kids, educating them, and socializing them.
Teaching and administrative professionals are burdened today as never before, but their inputs are hardly ever taken with the same weight as senior executives, the BOE, or parents. Think about it. What modern corporation operates this way? Look at Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, GE, and so on. These organization all have their problems, and they do have structured management, but the ADAPT. This is something that American education is NOT doing, including districts like PAUSD.
I've asked around of teachers and site administrators here, about MI. Most of them think it's currently a bad idea, for any number of reasons. Yet those voices were never heard in the debate.
Parents should always have a voice in public education, but that voice needs to be educated about the reality of classroom experience, in addition to what needs to be done to improve the quality of education. But, this closed loop system that never seems to change, that seems essentially void of anything new in terms of curricular structure.