Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If you want to fix the public schools, focus on the public schools: charters schools as a distraction

This is in response to today's Post article, "For D.C.'s charter schools, a new day: With supportive mayor, nontraditional facilities wield growing influence," which has the subhead "Mayor hopes D.C. charters spur changes in traditional schools."

(Also see the Valerie Strauss column, "D.C.’s move toward charter-centric school system," and the AP story "Gray administration hires consultant with ties to charter school movement to study DC schools.")

Wishful and foolish thinking.

In Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs discussed how people would justify urban renewal practices because "it gets rid of rats." She countered (paraphrased), why not focus on getting rid of rats directly? (because tearing down "old" buildings and building new buildings doesn't get rid of rats, it just displaces them for a time).

While I understand the allure of public charter schools as a way for parents to have input into schools and opportunities for their children in the face of underperforming and disconnected public school bureaucracies, it's foolish to believe that somehow "competition" from charter schools will force the public school bureaucracy to change.

The focus should be on fixing the public school system in all of the ways: personnel; plant; bureaucracy; culture; organization; etc., that it is dysfunctional.

Sadly, the "reform" effort has mostly focused on demonizing teachers, and not building the necessary support systems for teachers, classrooms, students, parents and families, principals, and schools.

The biggest problem with the disparate "school reform" movement in DC, split between proponents of traditional public schools, charter schools, and even private school vouchers, is that the social, organizational, and community capital available to be directed to school improvement is dissipated amongst all of these separate movements, and the massive amount of capital that is necessary for the improvement of the very much dysfunctional traditional public school system cannot be obtained as for the most part, the most able parents and families have been diverted away from the public school system.

I also think it's ironic that key support groups for Mayor Gray's election were public school teachers and other groups affiliated with traditionally schooling.

They got "schooled."

(Technically, much of Vincent Gray's career outside of government was for human service agencies that received significant funding through government contracts. Therefore, charter schools as a concept aren't something foreign to him.)

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