Sunday, April 6, 2014
Warning: Global Regents Approaching (And It's an Uneven Playing Field!)
By now we've all heard -ad nauseam- how charter schools perform better than traditional public schools on standardized exams. This performance, though not always true, has been held up as an example of how charters are better suited than public schools at serving students.
Just beneath this mantra lies a fact that can only happen in the perverse bowl of politics that is New York State: While traditional public schools are banned by law from grading state exams that were taken by their own students (particularly their high school state exams), charter schools -and even charter teachers themselves- grade their own students' exams each and every year.
This is according a conversation I had with two charter teachers, who teach in two different charter networks, this past week.
And there is no oversight whatsoever for these grading practices. Charter networks benefit from a perverse type of benign neglect from local and state districts that permits them to grade their own exams without oversight. At the same time, these networks embrace the business model approach which rewards employees who perform well and lets go those who do not. I would imagine the types of pressure placed on my colleagues from these schools in order to make sure the scores were up -and, without oversight, the networks are free to exert that pressure, if they wish, in total and complete secrecy.
And although these normal practices continue, no one calls them out on it.
It's not as though anyone would care. As our own governor as just recently demonstrated, charters are a very powerful political entity. The hedge fund managers who support them have great influence over the decisions that effect schools. If New York City public schools must have someone else grade their exams while charters get to grade their own in secrecy, then it's clearly because the powers that be have decided it. Our own state education Commissioner, John King -who championed the law that prevents public schools from grading their own exam but allows charters to do it in secrecy- is a charter school advocate and veteran himself. Assessing the deck that is stacked against public schools, is it any wonder why some charters do better on tests?
I teach Global History in a traditional public school. I've asked to teach only students with lower skills than most (mainly because I like those students more than other types of students), yet I know that my results on New York State's most difficult mandated exam -the Regents' Exam in Global History and Geography- will not be as good as the results in some charter schools throughout the city.
In June, I will be asked to accept that charter schools teachers, with their bonuses and work ethics (and fear of constantly being fired) are better than I. My reply, as always, will be that I wasn't aware that this was a competition. But deep down inside, on the level where everyone feels at least a little competitive, I'll grunt about how I just never had a level playing field to measure whether or not that was true.