All that glitters is not gold

A local charter school has this mission statement, …to be the benchmark of academic excellence through superior teaching of rigorous curriculum supported and assessed through a school data culture.  We focus on the development in every student of intellectually creative minds, healthy bodies, and the ethical spirits needed to contribute wisdom, compassion, and leadership to society.  We provide a blended learning model that integrates modern technology and drama with engaging instruction to enrich and embed content and to develop expressive and receptive language skills.
You might read this and be quite impressed-academic excellence, superior teaching, rigorous curriculum, blended learning model that integrates modern technology. As an outsider or prospective parent, this sounds appealing and what any parent would want for their child.
But what’s going on inside this charter school? I have learned it’s quite different from the mission. This information comes to me firsthand.
I was handed an empty room and a list of the content standards and told to teach. I had to provide everything from classroom library books to folders and crayons for my kids. They banned us from using any type of curriculum resources such as a teacher’s manual; we didn’t have a pacing guide or anything. They literally handed us a list of the standards and said teach them. Teachers are told if they use any workbooks or teachers manuals that they didn’t care about the students and could lose their jobs. Teachers get reprimanded if not enough work is going home. They provide no services for special needs students. We had no basic skills, no speech therapist, no aides for students that need one-on-ones. There are students who have needs that aren’t getting services. And they don’t  have I&RS (intervention and referral services) meetings.
Elementary students get ten minutes of recess a day that teachers have to supervise and some weeks the  kids don’t even have gym; isn’t that a state mandate? The school day  is 8 1/2 hours.  The charter got funding/grant as a drama/arts school and they don’t provide those programs.
I’m reminded of the proverb, all that glitters is not gold. The face of this charter is glitter. The website is impressive, the mission statement is solid, and they’ve done a successful job of recruiting students away from the public schools (taking public dollars with them). It looks shiny from the outside. From the inside, there is quite a different story to tell.
I firmly believe children growing up in low-income areas deserve the very best our profession has to offer. That means teachers need to understand the students, and how their lives and learning needs may be different from their own and work with them. Sustainability of teachers in urban schools is essential to narrowing the achievement gap between these schools and their suburban counterparts.


So what about the attrition rate at this charter? Is there sustainability with students, teachers, and administrators who are in this for the long haul and committed to the mission? According to what I learned, no.
The founder/owner/curriculum director would walk up and down the halls stalking classrooms. There have been multiple occasions where the founder has screamed and humiliated a teacher/admin in front of other people or worse, students. They threaten all the time that if they don’t like what is going on in the classroom they will walk in and take over (which they have done in some classrooms). Two of the teachers that resigned this year filed police reports against the founder (and they aren’t the first). 
No one in the building has worked here for more than two years. Twelve people have already resigned this year so far, including an administrator. They had 20 resignations last year including 4 principals. One student missed 14 out of 20 days of school but they won’t take them out because they don’t have a wait list and if they don’t meet quota they will lose funding.
One final comment on the climate of the school.
The only thing they seem concerned about is what the public and state’s perception of them is. Employees have to sign a contract that they cannot talk to the local paper or they would be fired.
Academic excellence, superior teaching, rigorous curriculum, blended learning model that integrates modern technology. This seems to be more about manipulation, coercion, meeting quota, and a facade to what is really going on inside.  Public money without the same oversight and regulations as public schools.
This isn’t what parents want for their children.  This school is not student centered, teaching is not based on proven instructional methods, solid planning, differentiated instruction, or effective and appropriate assessment.  Special needs are not being met as special services are not in the budget. The administration has one goal which to keep the school open – at all costs. I would like to write how surprised I am after learning about this school, but I cannot. I am disgusted, and frustrated, but not surprised. Is every charter school like this? Of course not. But I hear more of these stories than positive ones.
Not all charters are bad. All that glitters is not gold, either.
These are my reflections for today.
**The information shared with me for this blog is one person’s account of working for a charter school. The conditions became so unpleasant, she left as it went against who she is, what she believes, and how she was trained. She wants to be sure her story gets out so others can learn from it. I thanked SR for sharing her story, and she thanked me for the willingness to get it out there. Now I have done so.

Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

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