by Kyla Anderson, PSO National Board Member
Stop me if you’ve seen this movie before:
- Young new teacher comes to school filled with “bad” kids
- Teacher learns that the bad kids come from under-privileged homes
- Teacher and kids rally together and everyone laughs, is happy, and goes to college to start a new and successful life.
Oh, and all of this happens in 90 minutes or less.
The reality is a bit more complicated and certainly takes longer than 90 minutes.
Here’s reality: It can be incredibly difficult for students and schools to overcome an education/behavior gap once it has opened. Most importantly, it takes YEARS to bring a lagging student up to proficiency — no matter the quality of education or student.
This came to mind when reading about the Monument Academy charter school in D.C. The school gained national acclaim for “its approach to educating [Washington, D.C.] children whose needs are not easily addressed by traditional public schools,” according to the Washington Post. Now the school is fighting for its life after its Board recommended that the school close in light of safety incidents, just four years after opening.
Parents and others are fighting back to keep the school open, making important points that should be applied nationwide. For instance, they point out that the school exclusively serves those coming from under-privileged backgrounds. One-third of students are homeless and 80% are under supervision of the District’s Department of Children and Family Services. Therefore, the higher rate of safety incidents is only shocking to those who have watched too many Lifetime movies.
Most importantly, those seeking closure fail to address a crucial question: What happens to the kids in the school now? Many have already been expelled from their previous school and there are no other charter schools to accept these students. So it’s back to the status quo for these kids, with yet another shocking, scary change in a life already filled with shocking, scary events.
If anyone seriously thinks sending these kids back to their old schools will fix these safety issues, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. Rather than close the school due to safety issues, the community should work together to put these safety incidents into context when compared with other schools, and then focus on fixing this particular issue where the kids are now – at Monument Academy.
This issue touches my heart deeply, even though I live thousands of miles away in New Mexico. I am a proud foster parent and have done my best to give a loving, nurturing environment to kids who have had none. But no matter how hard I try, the simple fact is it will take years of hard work and love to build them back up. When faced with such a tough task, school choice is vital in finding the best option for student and family.
In my family’s case, we choose to use a public virtual school, which has many extraordinary benefits for my children. My son became suicidal in 7th grade after years of bullying and public virtual education allowed me to supervise him closely while continuing his education. My daughter came from a family so broken that we had no idea how much schooling she had even completed! Public virtual school allowed us to ease her into an educational environment while giving her the unlimited one-on-one time she needed. My children’s grades might not meet the expectations of some academic bureaucrat, but rest assured this option was life saving for them and the whole family – a situation I imagine to be directly analogous to many of the families at Monument Academy.
Also like those at Monument Academy in D.C., my family’s access to our school of choice was threatened. Legislation pushed in part by (ironically!) lobbyists from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) — would have severely curtailed our ability to access this public virtual school and made it impossible for many families across New Mexico. New Mexico is a large and rural state, and most families in New Mexico don’t have access to the limited number of brick and mortar charter schools. For these families, virtual schools represent the ONLY charter school option. Charter school growth is already slowing dramatically. Why further restrict access and choice to families who want charter school options?
Inevitably, those attacking public virtual schools argue that the life and death of these public schools should be based primarily on one thing: standardized test scores. Of course, test scores are not why parents choose schools, and test results don’t take into account the hundreds of unique reasons, including non-academic reasons, families choose alternative schooling options.
Thankfully, the bill was defeated after parent outcry forced legislators to withdraw it from consideration.
In this fight to save Monument Academy I am hearted to see that leadership from the same group that pushed legislation limiting our charter school choice in New Mexico – NAPCS – seems to be embracing the view that policymakers should consider a wider set of factors when assessing a school’s worth.
What are the backgrounds of each student? What type of home life do they come from? What options do they have if the school closes and what was their education beforehand?
All of these questions are frustratingly difficult to boil down into an algorithm or single-letter grade but they get at the heart of what makes school choice such a powerful engine for good in our education system.
That’s why this organization – of which I am a proud national board member – opposes auto-closure policies, one-size-fits all school “performance frameworks” and rigid test-based accountability systems that elevates standardized testing above the right of a parent to choose the school they believe is best for their children. It’s my hope that NAPCS will continue to re-think some of their previous policies and fight these anti-choice policies as well.