Monday, April 28, 2014

The Wal-Marting of US Public Schools

Friday's New York Times had an article detailing the amount of money the Walton Family Foundation has given to charter schools in the last decade or so.  The Waltons inherited their money from Sam Walton who started Wal-Mart -- the store that actively seeks to sell you as much cheap junk from China as possible.

I have to admit that I felt my educator's heart sinking as I read the story. I'm not anti-charter. I hope to lead my own school one day, and I applaud American Federation of Teachers Presidnet Albert Shanker's idea of essentially creating a research and development arm of typical public schools. These teacher-led schools would be an environment to try new and innovative approaches to education with a population that was invested enough in school to leave the typical neighborhood school. Teachers at the charter could take what they learned about their interventions back to their colleagues at the neighborhood school and work together to make sure that all public schools in the US supported all students.

Thanks to the foundation run by the family behind Wal-Mart, however, charter schools have lost their original mission. They've become billed as band-aids to our current education "crisis" and replacements for the neighborhood schools that are painted as failing by virtue of test scores that were never designed to measure what we're using them to measure. They also fail to educate students in need of special education skills and one large charter chain recently sought to oust students with high needs from their home school.

The parents in the story seemed caught in between wanting to support their local schools and believing that the local schools couldn't provide what charter schools can -- including better libraries and technology.

But I'm not a parent yet; I'm just a teacher who sees kids labor in a system that works for them sometimes and doesn't work for them others. I think our public schools could use some visioning and some investment in that vision. We'll get nowhere, however, in creating public schools that educate every child in the US to the highest possible expectation if we let the same people who brought us Wal-Mart bring us the next generation of public schools.

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