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Public “Schools of Hope” Could be Anything But

Guest Editorial by Dr. Cheryl Duckworth

Guest Editorial – Op/Ed

Public “Schools of Hope” Could be Anything But

Cheryl Duckworth, Ph.D.

Cheryl Duckworth, Ph.D.

As Florida’s legislative session continues in Tallahassee, a whirlwind of dangerous and reactionary changes to our public schools have been proposed.  Chief among these is the ill-advised rush to effective privatization of our public schools via charter schools. This seems to be almost an annual occurrence, with a renewed vigor this year.

Having taught in public schools for eight years (middle and high school English), I’ve seen first-hand the dedication, professionalism and struggle of our public schools.  I’ve experienced overcrowded classrooms, and chaffed at being tied to standardized tests that I knew were only a snapshot of a child’s academic performance.  Many public schools perform with excellence while others remain in a cycle of failure due to several factors, including poverty and violence in the community.  Yet back-door privatization via an explosion of charter schools isn’t the answer.

Promotion of charter schools, referred to as the “schools of hope” plan,  fails to solve the problem.  That’s because charters schools, even if they perform with excellence, cannot ever have the capacity to serve every student.  We know that in some cases, traditional schools seek to remove students with behavioral and other issues – students they don’t want to teach because their academic performance brings the school’s overall test scores down.

In the desperation to produce high test scores, these students are shuffled off, often finding themselves enrolled in for-profit charter schools where they may be expelled back to a traditional public school – as charters can often choose their students – or face verbal and even physical abuse by staff  who likely do not have the proper training to address their needs.

Teaching quality can often be low, resulting from the fact that typical charter schools pay less and offer fewer benefits for educators.  I know of at least three teachers who were not performing well enough for the public schools and weren’t rehired; moving to a charter school, where each of these individuals now teach, was their only option.  Minority and low income students are the most vulnerable to these harms, emphasizing that recommitting ourselves to public education is a matter of economic and racial justice.

We must be honest about the damage done to children when public education is used as a partisan political football or as a means of simply getting rich through for-profit charter chains (some of which failed and had to close quickly, leaving Florida parents and teachers stranded.)

As our legislators debate changes to the public education system, they would do well to remember what Florida’s Constitution says about public education:

The education of children is a fundamental value to the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.

Rather than wasting tax payer’s money on more charter schools, which are too often allowed to operate with public funds yet little or no public oversight, Florida’s leaders should remember that public education is a cornerstone of democracy.  True schools of hope would pay teachers like the educated professionals that they are, be equipped with 21st century technology, reward rather than punish teacher-longevity by reinstating teacher step increases and use tests as simply one of many ways of assessing student knowledge.  True schools of hope would protect all students, regardless of their immigration status, gender identity, language background or anything else.

Such schools would be a beacon of hope for American democracy in the 21st century.

 

Cheryl Duckworth, Ph.D.
Nova Southeastern University
Associate Professor, Peace Education and Conflict Resolution
College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

 

Nova Southeastern University fully supports an individual’s right to express their viewpoint and opinions. The views expressed in this guest editorial are that of Cheryl Duckworth, Ph.D. in Nova Southeastern University’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and are not necessarily those of NSU, its President or Board of Trustees.