In Defense of the NC Charter School Teacher of the Year

On February 28th, Douglas Price had an op-ed posted on entitled “Three ideas for addressing key charter school problems.” As the Charter School TOY, what he explained and argued in this piece was valuable, well-explained, evenly tempered, and was well-researched.

And it took guts. Price is a teacher; he did what great teachers do and advocated for bettering the experience of students by pointing out what he sees firsthand from the inside-out.

He was bringing light to something that needs to have more transparency.

It does not display the bravado of wanting to “rock the boat” or be noticed. It was written to help identify that there are some inconsistencies with what school choice proponents claim and what really seems to be happening. He begins:

“Charter schools have taken a bad rap over the past decade; rightfully so. Nationally, charters are consistently in the news for their political dividestheir accountability (or lack thereof), and sometimes for their more shocking movements. As a teacher who has worked for several years both in traditional and charter schools, and as the most recently named North Carolina Charter School Teacher of the Year, I believe it’s time to pull up our socks and take a dash of humility.

Do not misunderstand me — I do not think all charter schools are bad. A case can be made that there are several in this state that are doing phenomenal things with their curriculum, students, and communities. Likewise, the reverse is also true, and unfortunately more prevalent. A recent report by the Office of Charter Schools on the percentage of NC charter schools meeting growth reflects a steep decline.”

He identified an issue(s) and proactively confronted it.

And then today another op-ed was posted on EdNC from Dr. Terry Stoops, the Director of Research and Education for the John Locke Foundation, NC’s libertarian think-tank. Dr. Stoops is an avowed “school choice” proponent and is about to open up his own charter school with the help of John Bryan’s outfit from Oregon.

What Price as a veteran teacher explained obviously did not sit well with Stoops. In “Charter schools: Educational competition that is here to stay,” Stoops gives his version of the history of the charter school movement and how North Carolina supposedly took a view that it meant to establish competition for public schools.

Whatever Stoops claims in his dissertation about charter schools is for another time. It’s his treatment of a veteran teacher who has ten times the amount of classroom experience than Stoops has and who is not paid to be a mouthpiece of a partisan outfit that made this latter piece rather out of touch.

Here’s one part:

From its inception, however, the beauty of the charter school movement is that it welcomes divergent ideas. The earliest charter school proponents believed that charters could address specific shortcomings of school district governance, and Mr. Price appears to be a devotee of this tradition. But education reformers and elected officials who championed the charter school concept starting in the late 1980s sought something more revolutionary — a system of public schools that would compete directly with school districts, and through that competition, would improve student achievement and parental satisfaction.

That’s the model that is delivering opportunity to kids and empowerment to parents — something Mr. Price’s proposed rollback would curtail.

The words “divergent ideas” and “John Locke Foundation” rarely collide. And if “revolutionary” means having actual charter school teachers come out and tell people that there are some glaring issues that need to be addressed, then maybe there needs to be a different word used. (And imagine the opportunity that kids could have if schools were fully funded.)

Furthermore, there is that word “opportunity”: the name of the very vouchers that are currently over-funded and have not shown empirical evidence of working well.

But it is the labeling of a veteran teacher by a non-teacher in the vein of “What does he really know?” that really stands out in this public domain that supposedly is for civil discussion or what did Stoops say? “Welcoming of divergent ideas.”

The claim that charter schools in North Carolina are wonderfully working to provide parental choice and opportunity needs a lot more clarification because most of the news being reported by education outlets has not cast the charter school movement here in NC in a great light. And here is an actual teacher telling us that there needs to be more revision and oversight into what is happening. To improve charter schools!

That’s not “revolutionary.” That’s a teacher doing his job and fulfilling his duty as an advocate for the state’s school system.

It seems that if one really wants to know what is happening in schools, it would behoove him to ask the teachers, students, and administrators: the very people who are on the inside. And in this particular situation, I believe what the actual teacher says over someone who is trying to fit reality within a narrative of a different mold.

Stoops ends his op-ed with this:

Mr. Price is part of a new generation of educators that are asking important questions about this shifting educational landscape. By doing so, they are part of the most important competition of all — the competition of ideas about the ways that charter schools may improve public schooling in an educational environment increasingly dependent on parental choice.

“Ideas about the ways that charter schools may improve public schooling” is the most important competition of all?

And no. Price did not ask questions. There is not a single question asked in his op-ed. What he is doing is calling into question the lack of oversight in the politically motivated “shifting” of the “educational landscape.”

If Stoops really wanted to rebut what Price said, then he needs to actually address the very valid points that Price makes.

And not try and belittle a needed voice.