How Charter Schools Kill Superman: The Boston Edition

For those who don’t recall, there was a movie Waiting for Superman that was nothing more than an educational ‘reform’ screed. Former Boston charter school teacher Nancy Bloom writes:

To you Michelle Rhee and all you anti-union fanatics, you are wasting your time waiting around for superman. They already fired superman at my school. You see a union would have protected Dany as well as these three talented teachers who provided quality physical education to all of our 1200 students. Meanwhile, some not-so-gifted staff and teachers get to keep their jobs every June 1. At least public schools and their unions have transparent guidelines for tenure and enough respect to let teachers know they won’t be rehired for the next school year by March or earlier. June 1 is late to jump into the teacher hiring season. I suspect the administration keeps it a secret to the bitter end because they don’t trust us to keep working hard. They are suspicious and we are paranoid. It’s part of my school’s culture.

Well, that’s an atmosphere conducive to learning and valuing children. This is the part that stuck with me, since it describes how reform functions as a means of controlling teachers, not improving student learning (boldface mine):

The second thing to know is that we work very hard at my charter school, completing endless tasks that are not designed to instill habits of critical thinking in our students. Rather we are driven like cattle to collect mounds of data, to divvy the data up into tidy and irrelevant skill categories, and finally to create individual action plans to remediate each student’s poor data points. We are required to write lesson plans that note exactly which discreet skills we will be working on during every minute of every school day while delivering scripted programs. It takes hours to make these plans and we don’t use them. Can’t use them. Because kids are unpredictable and surprises happen. Most of us work at least ten hours on every weekday preparing our rooms and teaching. We continue working on weekends. The building is open on Saturdays and during vacations and there are a lot of cars in the parking lot on these days off.

I’ll also note that the last two sentence point out something else about the charter school model–the demands on teachers make most charter schools fundamentally unsustainable. A final thing that struck me is the Dilbertization of academia:

Our workload is a favorite theme of the school’s superintendent and CEO. Charter school leaders love these business style titles. Dr. CEO often chuckles during all-staff meetings at how we charter school teachers work harder than they do in Boston Public Schools and get paid less for our troubles. Apparently he doesn’t know how insulting this is. Last December a group of administrators entertained us during a holiday party with a school version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas that included a verse about how little we get paid for our hefty workload. That was the last time I worked a ten-hour day and the moment I knew I had to quit.

The third and last thing for you to know is that psychological torture precedes the June 1 firing ritual in the form of annual performance reviews. It looks like our new principal has brought this final blow to a new level. I’ve talked to many teachers and they report the same experience. He begins the review with gracious smiles and copious thank-yous for our commitment and hard work. And then he trashes our performance. So many of us have “failed to meet professional standards,” you would think the school could barely function. Teachers are leaving their performance reviews convinced their June 1 letter will be very bad news. They have to sweat it out to June 1.

The most disturbing part is that the principal already knows who will be rehired. And he knows which teachers have especially compelling reasons to stay one more year. But he keeps them guessing.

Why Massachusetts, which has had one of the best educational systems in the world, has recently decided to increase charter schools escapes me. It’s no way to teach, and more importantly, no way to learn.

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5 Responses to How Charter Schools Kill Superman: The Boston Edition

  1. Seems consistent with the Massachusetts I knew – the state that was seemingly characterized by a requirement which mandated that all applicants for public office had to be certifiably insane or very, very stupid. I always suspected that the Mass motor vehicles dept. (whatever the official name was) was the training ground for aspirants to state offices. I loved living up there, though, and would love to live there again, once I’m retired and my kids are grown.

  2. johnV says:

    “Most of us work at least ten hours on every weekday preparing our rooms and teaching. We continue working on weekends. The building is open on Saturdays and during vacations and there are a lot of cars in the parking lot on these days off.”

    Sounds like the expected work life balance for grad school / continuing employment in the life sciences to me.

  3. joemac53 says:

    I was in school every morning at 5 for years, then 5:30 when the building wouldn’t open earlier for “security reasons”. If we only had practice after school, home by 5:30, home games 6:30 and away games could be any time after that. I had students in school at 6:30 on a daily basis. This was a normal existence in my regular suburban public school in MA.
    A kid could get a great education, have contacts with top colleges and play sports at a high level if they chose.
    The folks I knew teaching in the charter school were underpaid and burned out quickly. The kids who could not make it at our “top 100” charter school came back to us in a hurry.
    My local charter school also claims not to “cherry pick” top students and underpick special needs or non-English speaking students. “We pick by lottery!” they cry.
    But if you put up a sign “We will beat the crap out of any redheaded kid who shows up here!” you should not be surprised to see very few redheads among your applicants. And you should not insist that you have a “blind lottery”.

  4. Pingback: Do “We” Need Unions? Wrong Question | Mike the Mad Biologist

  5. Misaki says:

    >that included a verse about how little we get paid for our hefty workload.

    Job creation without higher government spending, inflation, or trade barriers:

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