Friday, July 06, 2007

DPS and the NAACP Need A Serious Discussion on Charters by Akindele Akinyemi

What are we going to do about Detroit Public Schools in 2007?

The incredible job of straightening out the current financial and bureaucratic mess—to say nothing of improving the quality of education—is so daunting no one, it seems, is interested in becoming its new chief executive officer.

And no wonder. Detroit has more than 100,000 students, nearly 5,000 teachers and more than 10,000 other employees. One of its biggest problems is the sheer size of the district and the massive bureaucracy that goes along with it.

Massive problems call for ground-breaking solutions. Here is the question? What if the Detroit school board were to charter all of Detroit's schools?

Although no one ever recommended it be so, charter schools have become THE options for parents in our city. Charter schools, on average, are small, serving less than 200 students on average--about a third the size of the typical public school. Charter schools number nearly 3200 nationwide, with concentrations of nearly a hundred or more schools in ten states. But few of these sizable numbers have joined forces in larger entities to exploit economies of scale. No more than 15 percent of all charter schools are run or supported by management organizations, which work with multiple charter schools. Contrast this with regular public schools, where the average school is part of a system of six schools, and a third of all schools are part of systems twice to many times that size. In the fifteen years since the first one was authorized, charter schools have shown a powerful tendency toward small size and total independence.

Why should DPS charter their schools?

This would free schools from the bureaucracy and empower parents, teachers and principals to make their own schools work. They could hire, fire, and promote on their own; determine their own pay, budgets and curricula. Accountability would increase, since the reform board—as authorizer of the charters—would periodically evaluate each school to see if it needs to be handed over to managers who can do better.

When charter schools fail, they can be shut down—unlike the Detroit school disaster, which goes on and on.

With more and more grassroots leaders in our community speaking about no new charters when they have never came up with one single solution to the DPS crisis it's time to try the charter option. The NAACP is for saving our large DPS system, yet, they have only came up with the Transition Team report. How many NAACP members have expanded their energies to reach out to charter schools the same way they reach out to DPS schools? Perhaps if they would take the time to reach those in charters their numbers could increase in membership.

Instead of burying the N-Word at Hart Plaza on Monday maybe they could take a tour of charters and recruit young people.

By the way, I was talking to one of my comrades in the NAACP about charters and how she is totally against them. Even though she has spoken in two charters schools I have worked for to my students and actually ENJOYED my kids and even got them politically active she is against charters. Now is she speaking for the Detroit NAACP or is she totally clueless about how charters operate?

For instance, my comrade does not fully understand how the NAACP is in lockstep with the teacher unions. After reading the full history of the Detroit Branch NAACP in this week Michigan Chronicle I can clearly see why the Detroit Branch and Unions are joined at the hip. It is a union that started at the turn of the 20th century here in Detroit.

However, in our friendly debate on education I explained to her how the teacher unions are trying to derail charter school creativity and innovation. Therefore you get the stupid argument of charters take money out of the Detroit Public School System.

So what, this is competition. Education is a business and anyone saying anything different is lying.

The NAACP also needs to recognize that the "greater oversight" campaign is aimed at destroying charter schools and that charter schools already have all the accountability they need. Not only are two-thirds of them managed by professional management companies, each school has a board of directors, which in turn must satisfy its authorizer or the school’s charter may be revoked, thereby closing the school — a level of accountability to which traditional public schools have never come close to being subjected.

Furthermore, the accountability of Michigan’s charter schools has less to do with authorizers, reams of regulations, MEAP scores or oversight by a state bureaucracy than it does with the fact that unlike traditional public schools, not a single student is assigned to attend a charter school on the basis of the child’s zip code. This single fact — that parents can withdraw their children if they are not happy with a charter school’s performance — creates a level of market-based accountability the public school system couldn’t match if the entire state workforce were put on the job.

It is incredible that my comrade, who is a member and staunch supporter of the NAACP, has the right as a parent to use HER options to send her children anywhere in Ann Arbor. Yet, she, along with many in her circle, should keep our children in failing school districts like Detroit. I'm confused. Is this what the NAACP will be talking about beginning this weekend when their convention kicks off? Anything coming out of Juilan Bond's mouth is confusion.

The immediate solution to this is to have an educational dialogue on how charters and traditional systems can co-exist. I wonder if ANYONE in the Detroit NAACP will come up with that suggestion this weekend while listening to Lil' Mo?

Detroit's children deserve no less. It would be a great day for Detroit students and parents if the Michigan Department of Education could boast that its traditional public schools are as accountable to parents as Michigan’s charter schools. But it won’t happen, because accountability isn’t what traditional public schools really want.

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