In the classic Network, released 34 years ago, Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) is at his anchor desk as the cameras go live and he eloquently unleashes his famous neurotic break with reality: “I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your congressman… All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad…I want you to get up right now and go to your window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!’
Today I feel the same as Beale, not related to his abject disgust with the trajectory of the nation, crime in the streets, depression, dirty air, banks, guns and unemployment, although those complaints still exist today. No; for me it is about the state of affairs with public education. The anger for me rises into rage when we continue to do the same things, bringing, in too many cases, abysmal results when we know how to create models that work for all students.
A few hours ago I came back from visiting a charter school model that if replicated for middle and high schools could lead the nation out of the crisis we have created for ourselves. However, the answer is not to scale charter schools up to 100 percent or to eliminate the traditional public school system. In fact, we can do this in all schools if we have the will. If we don’t I believe our nation is in peril.
In 2009 Stanford University’s CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes) published the first national assessment on charter schools’ impact. “The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter school nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than if their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.”
The recent documentary Waiting for Superman appeared to have as its key thesis that charter schools are the cure to what is ailing the public school system. Unfortunately the movie glossed over the aforementioned important key findings contained in the CREDO charter report’s Executive Summary.
As one teacher told me at Summit Preparatory Charter in Redwood City, one of the schools featured in Waiting for Superman, the system of schools are failing the students and the situation is urgent. The sense of urgency comes from his experience teaching in South Central LA in high schools that were factories of failure.
When I got home I listed the ingredients of Summit’s success as I heard them from students, teachers, administrators and others with whom I had an opportunity to meet:
Hire teachers who care deeply about their work, their students, and their colleagues. Students told me what makes Summit a great school is that teachers really care and they all want them to succeed. Summit does not issue D grades.
Many of the teachers I spoke with were young second career professionals. A teacher who was an electrical engineering major had worked at a computer company in Texas, but was looking for more fulfilling work even though he took a significant pay cut. He loves teaching and he enjoys doing so at Summit.
Pay was somewhat of an important factor however, what I heard was most important to attract high quality professionals to teaching is a supportive environment based on professionalism, where hard work can become “fun” work. Summit pays 10% per year bonuses based on performance, 25 percent of the bonus amount is based on student test scores.
Students rise to the occasion of teaching and learning when the expectations are equally high for all. All students take A-G (admission requirements for UC and CSU) course requirements, there is no tracking. Ninety-three percent (93 percent) of Summit’s graduates attend a four-year college. The Summit’s demographics mirror Sequoia Union High School District in all areas accept English Language Learners (11 percent at Summit vs. 18 percent at Sequoia).
Students told me there is tremendous support from their peers to succeed. Creating a culture of support and collegiality for all is an essential ingredient.
Summit is a professional development school site for Stanford University.
Tutoring and schoolwork on Saturday are routine.
Summit Preparatory Charter High School-Tahoma will be on the SCCOE agenda on Nov. 17 for authorizing its beginnings in the East Side Union High School District for 2011-12. If successful it plans to enroll 400 high school students, most from ESUHSD.
So I am mad as hell that we cannot get the will we need as a country to build these public schools with the ingredients presented above for all our children. If America can have the best military on the planet we too could (and must) have the schools to match.