We’re Not Here for the Placebo Effect

While attending a panel discussion on educational leadership given by the Alliance for Diversity & Excellence earlier this year, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing thoughts about the charter school movement from Dr. Howard Fuller. He said the charter movement wasn’t designed to be what it is shaping up to be in my city of New Orleans. He spoke of a charter movement that was intended to empower parents who were disenfranchised and not satisfied with the traditional public school system. He also said charter schools were to give teachers the autonomy to use methods they believed would work outside of the bureaucracy of a school board and when those teachers gained knowledge of the efficiency of those new practices and strategies, they could share that information with traditional public schools in an attempt to implement innovative and creative practices that are more beneficial to children’s learning. Imagine two entities that truly want to add to the progress of education working together for a more sufficient future in pedagogical practices.  

I recently sat down and listened to a very healthy dialogue between Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig and Dr. Howard Fuller, the conversation brought about a stance from Dr. Fuller I agreed with.  

“I don’t think that charter schools are a panacea, anymore than I think the traditional school district is. My perspective is how is it that we use these various options, and I happen to be a person who supports traditional school districts, and I do agree that we should be trying to fight to make sure all of our children are fully funded. I think the problem is that we are forced into these false choices that you have to choose between charter schools and traditional schools and private schools. My view is that the three sectors should all be available to all children, particularly children from low income and working class families.”

It is that ideology of working together and not apart that speaks to me – trying something away from the beaten path and then bringing it back to advance a collective of schools and educators to benefit everyone. Those events led me to my thoughts about a recent The 74 article about charter schools making traditional schools better merely by their presence in the same building or their proximity to a traditional public school.

Temple University assistant professor Sarah Cordes researched and developed seven findings listed in 74’s article, “When Charter Schools Open, Neighboring Schools Get Better: A New Study Finds 7 Reasons Why.” However there are several quotes from the research that has me as a father and concerned education advocate asking questions of whether this study is aligned with educators in both charter and traditional schools and reform proponents and parents working toward a better education system in our communities, cities, and ultimately nationwide.

“Just the presence of an alternative does it,” Cordes told The 74 in a far-ranging interview. “It doesn’t really matter how great that alternative is — it’s just the fact that that alternative is there, it’s in the building, and people see it every day.”

Wait, what? I have literally read that quote about fifty times mulling over its meaning, dissecting it, and trying to find a single positive outcome that I could come up with about that quote and I have nothing. The quote is very unsettling to me and nearly offensive. No, your presence alone is not enough to make my child receive a better education. It also borders on the practice of experimentation that gives charters a bad image in the public’s eye. I don’t simply want the presence of something – a charter placebo – to see what effect it will have on teachers and children in low income and high poverty areas. If you are not about doing the groundwork that it is going to take to turns things around, then you should turn around and never come back into any neighborhood.  If quality education is not your goal then you shouldn’t be involving yourself in the business of education.

In our communities, low income and children in poverty can and should only benefit from studies and research that describes how to make a partnership between educators from any and all sectors of education better. Newsflash – Many children don’t care about the charter vs traditional school argument. The only reason for a charter to enter the same neighborhood or building as a traditional school should be to further the educational landscape directly and not by some indirect chance occurrence.

I reached out to some of the other parents in my circle and we had good dialogue and conversation about this article. We believe, as earlier described, a charter system that is intended to advance education, work with children and families as well as educators from traditional schools is the only way to empower parents. We agree having better schools and education is a true benefit, but we disagree with sending institutions into our communities that don’t come to be great from the onset and honestly we have seen many charter schools this article seems to describe. This “Savior Mentality” that is described in that study and research is exactly what education is not about and I nominate that we bury that mentality once and for all.

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