According to the Montgomery Advertiser Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange now has a vision of a series of charter schools being the salvation of education in the capital city. (Before he goes too far down this trail he would be smart to check in with Washington DC and New Orleans where charters are the flavor of the day, but no one holds them up as systems to emulate.)
Like most politicians, the mayor is governed by how often elections roll around. Real school improvement doesn’t operate by the same calendar.
Honest-to-goodness improvements in educational outcomes are because of heavy lifting. Extremely heavy lifting. We’re talking about changing cultures in communities. About all hands on deck. Churches, civics clubs, businesses, government bodies.
Here’s the deal. There are X number of students to educate in Montgomery. There is X amount of dollars to do it with. Both are finite. A five-gallon bucket only holds five gallons.
Right now there are three school systems in Montgomery. One is a network of more than 40 private schools. One is a network of ten magnet schools within the Montgomery County school system. The third is the remainder of all the more traditional schools.
Now the mayor wants to split the pie into even smaller pieces by imposing a fourth system. A system that does not bring a new source of funding since charters get their money from public school funding. (And remember that charter schools have their own boards that are not accountable to a public entity.)
Last fall the Miners of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) football team lost all 12 games they played. Now is there a single soul in Montgomery who thinks if this team put on the uniforms of the University of Alabama they would suddenly stop losing games?
Yet we obviously have some who want us to believe that if we take a child out of one school and put them in another and call it a charter school that child magically morphs into another person.
The mayor would do well to read this article by Karin Chenoweth, about “turnaround” schools and how they do it. Better yet, he should get a copy of her new book, How Schools Succeed. He could read about the work principal Debbie Bolden did at Gillard elementary in Mobile and is now doing in Atmore at Escambia County middle.
Here’s what Chenoweth says:
“If I had to put into one sentence what the key lesson they (schools) hold is, it would be that they focus on improving the knowledge and skill of the adults in schools and give them the time and space to collaborate about what kids need to learn and how to teach it.
Educating all children, no matter what their background, is complex and difficult work.
But it can be done, and if we are serious about trying to do so, we might want to stop thinking that no one knows what they’re doing.”
Like too many these days, Mayor Strange wants to believe that schools and teachers are responsible for solving all the world’s problems. Nothing could be more wrong.
He would be well served to spend quality time in some classrooms, shadowing some principals, in the teacher’s lounge. Take a long, hard look at the real world of Montgomery education and the challenges faced each day before coming up with your next vision. After all, the mayor was a big supporter of state superintendent Michael Sentance taking over these schools. How did that work out?
As Karin Chenoweth says, “Educating all children, no matter what their background, is complex and difficult work.”
That reality can not be masked with ribbons and bows and fancy new labels.