One truly sad aspect of the entire McKeel kid-dumping scandal is how it contributes greater distrust and enmity to school reform efforts that really ought not to be so contentious.
Unlike most debates in our society, public school reform has room for a grand compromise because all sides have very valid points: Some teachers – for the most part in traditional schools – continue to collect paychecks without doing much for their kids; but you can’t fire too many teachers, because there aren’t enough waiting to take over; charter and magnet schools do have enormous advantages, which start with their self-selected enrollments and willingness to dump kids; the special school model cannot exist without traditional systems to act as safety valves; tests and test scores are manipulated all the time – see this story about New York; but they also provide a general picture of simple achievement; teachers who are busting their butts (most of them) deserve some job security not directly tied to test scores; and administrators use unions as an excuse for not doing their jobs.
Most importantly, every kid is an individual human being who learns and behaves differently. Non-violently imposing one’s will on another human being, even in that human being’s best interest, is the hardest thing humans attempt. We should approach all of this with humility and honesty. People of good faith could work this out.
That’s why it’s so damaging to listen to people affiliated with McKeel crow about how wonderful they are – in an implicit sneer at traditional schools – without acknowledging the kids they dump. It undermines good faith across the board.
But, fear not, I have a potential solution.
As I mentioned in a comment on one of my previous posts, I suggest that all charter and magnet schools (I would consider a waiver for those that serve highly specialized and troubled populations.) retain test score accountability for any kid they enroll for a year after that kid leaves the school. The school where that kid goes would have the option of counting his or her score if it wanted.
For instance, if a kid enrolled in charter school X leaves after the October 2010 FTE count – a fairly common practice, I’m told, because it keeps the money and dumps the accountability – the charter school would retain test score responsibility for that kid in 2010 and 2011. As I understand today’s rules, that kid wouldn’t count anywhere in 2010, and his traditional school would have responsibility in 2011. Under my plan, the traditional school gets a free shot at educating that kid for a year-and-a-half. It it goes well, he helps their score. If it doesn’t, the school is not penalized. And charter school X suddenly has an incentive not to dump that kid, to apply its culture of achievement more forcefully.
This is no panacea. Because I think status — the private, public school mentality — plays a major role in the way many charter and magnet schools operate, I expect the dumping to continue. But we can at least stop rewarding them for it. And I think it would make a nice gesture of support for traditional school teachers and staff, who could use it.
I think this would be a perfect task for Rep. Seth McKeel, whose brings both ties to McKeel and his influential voice in the legislature. But anybody could do it. Let’s hear from you, educators and legislators. Do you like this idea? I think it’s a way to begin merging our two-track system with some equity. Instead of saying, “well, we do things differently than you riff-raff,” charters and magnets would be saying we’re all in this together.
If no one can bring themselves to move on this, I have a second suggestion. A two-track education system – with special schools full of easy-to-teach kids – can’t exist without compulsory education, which allows for skimming of the cream. If we insist on clinging to distinctions between schools based on performance, but not enrollment policies, it’s time to stop requiring kids to go to school so that traditional schools get a fair shot at educating the kids whose parents choose to send them.