Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mr. Obama goes to school

You’re excellent listeners. And the reason we came to visit, A, we wanted to get out of the White House; B, we wanted to see you guys; but C, the other thing we wanted to tell everybody is that this kind of innovative school, the outstanding work that’s being done here by the entire staff, and the parents who are so active and involved, is an example of how all our schools should be.

POTUS, on a visit to a "public" school yesterday in D.C.

The President read to 2nd graders yesterday. Last time our President read to second-graders, I spent a very long day on Liberty Island waiting for the injured children that never came, so excuse me for being a little touchy here.

The school that Mr. Obama uses as "an example of how all our schools should be" is the Capital City Public Charter School (CCPCS) in D.C.


Political folks will point out that public charter schools are open to everyone, with students picked by lottery independent of ability. And that's true.
Parents of children at the CCPCS must volunteer 20 hours per year at the school. That takes care of a few single parent families.
Political folks will point out that the CCPCS has demonstrated that children can succeed in their environment. And that's true.
There are only 25 sixth graders, 25 seventh graders, and 25 eighth graders. The student-teacher ratio is 12: 1, which is wonderful. It is also very expensive.

How do they do it?

Gates Foundation.

Walton Foundation.
Bruhn-Morris Family Foundation.
Capital One

City First Bank
Comcast Cable
Donatelli & Klein
Graham Fund
Hattie M. Strong Foundation
Marpat Foundation
National Geographic
National Home Library Foundation
Payless ShoeSource Foundation
Radio One
The Sallie Mae Fund

Susan W. Agger Family Fund of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region
Target Stores
The Washington Post Educational Foundation
To be fair, my high school gets money from the local Bloomfield Educational Foundation, and I think we got some bucks from Adidas. At least I hope so, since we have an Adidas banner hanging in the foyer.

We turned down Channel One a few years ago because we valued our children enough not to force them to watch commercials on school time. Go us.

Political folks will assure you the lottery system for charter school admission is random--and it is. It randomly selects from a large pool of applicants. The pool of applicants, however, is not random.

Over 60% of the District of Columbia Public Schools students qualified for free or reduced lunch in 2002-2002. (I'll update it if I ever find time to ply the quantitative waters of that district.) 43% qualify for the same at CCPCS.

Mr. President, it's apples and oranges. Bancroft Elementary School is a skip and a throw from the CCPCS. Over 80% of Bancroft's students qualify for reduced lunch prices. They're working hard there to provide a decent education for an impoverished group of kids who mostly speak Spanish.

I want to know how Bancroft does it.
I want to know if anyone at the national level has a clue about teaching kids.
I want to know how Mr. Obama is going to get my class sizes down to 12 students.
Mostly I want powerful people at high levels of government to stop playing us in the trenches.

The CCPCS sounds like a wonderful place to send your children. Money can buy a decent education. Involved parents have a tremendous influence over their children's success.

Mr. President, we already know that. What about the rest of us? Why not pay a visit to a truly public school in your neighborhood. Then we can talk.

(Fair disclosure: I am still steaming over the games Mr. Arne Duncan played with his test result numbers last summer when he came to Washington for a chat. He is either aware of his gamesmanship and plays us for fools, or he believes his own nonsense, which scares me even more.)


Mrs. Stawicki said...

Hear! Hear!

I read a book on Stuyvesant High School, written by alumnus Alec Klein, in which he takes a close look at what makes the school what it is.

The teachers there ARE some of the most brilliant, but I was floored by how they are treated. A lot of money and some professional respect go a long way.

Imagine classes with 12 students, where you might actually attend to every student's needs without rushing to the next one! Remarkable!

If Obama was remarking that he wants to ensure that every school is able to function like CCPCS, I'd like to see it happen. Unfortunately, I agree with you, in that no one at the national level understands what that entails.

Tom Hoffman said...

This is, I think, a counter-productively cynical and negative reading. If the President, or any other bigwig for that matter, visits a particularly well-funded and led school and says "I think all schools should be like this," it could mean two things: "I think all schools should be well-funded, well-led, and in this case be engaged with parents and have a progressive curriculum" or it could mean "I believe all schools could be like this if teachers would work harder, give kids more tests and a narrower curriculum and perhaps if we could fire some and hire some more energetic young untrained Ivy Leaguers."

Recently, the second meaning has become dominant, but I don't think it is what Obama means here. I think he means the first one.

CCPCS is an Expeditionary Learning School, which seems like the kind of thing you'd like, after reading your blog for a few weeks. It is also a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools, and it is just the kind of school design that was emphasized in the Annenberg Challenge work that Obama was involved in (as chairman of the board).

Nonetheless, it is frustrating reading about great schools which are great in part because they've got way more money, a good chunk of kids walking in the door already well prepared to learn, etc. But if we want to win an argument about progressive education, we have to support progressive schools, and when the president says, in effect, "I think all kids should go to progressive schools like this one," we really ought to celebrate that.

doyle said...

Dear bhssrcc and Tom Hoffman,

I hope a real conversation develops over the visit. Tom, I know bhssrcc personally, so please excuse my bias.

I have been accused of counter-productive thinking before, and I am aware that my glasses are not tinted rose here--I say as much at the end of my post.

True, there are multiple (as in more than two) ways to interpret the President's visit to the school. The most innocuous would be to take him at his word, he just needed a break.

Mr. Obama makes it clear on his/our website that he believes the function of schools is to create workers for any job anywhere in the world.

Mr. Duncan this past week said we need to raise the bar even higher, and continue testing with "better" tests.

I'd take their views on education more positively if either publicly recognized the severe limitations many students have independent of their schools.

This is not an either/or argument--I pride myself on busting my ass to get the most out of my kids, some who come from very difficult circumstances.

Of course all schools should be well led. Many of our failing schools are.

Of course all schools should be well funded, but not by corporate money, and I'll take my argument for that to the front page one of these days.

Of course parents should be more engaged, but issues beyond school often preclude this--in Jersey, many parents need to work ridiculous hours just to stay afloat.

My point is not to knock the school (though I am wary of their corporate donor list). I would have been far more impressed had the POTUS visited a truly public school.

Finally, the "cynical" charge in your first sentence almost killed the conversation. I fight cynicism at many different levels--there's a world of difference between skepticism and cynicism. If I were a cynic, I'd be a bigger fool than I already am to think writing here serves any purpose.

Anonymous said...

Well Mr. Doyle. On the surface CCPCS does look wonderful. 12 students/teacher! I currently have 13 students in one class, 19 in the other. I work in a public school, we don't get any corporate funding, and I can guarantee you that the Prime Minister of Canada has no idea that we exist. That's because we don't get corporate funding, most likely. Or that he doesn't really give a hoot about education (even more likely). Our program exists because teachers saw a need and fought for a program to fill that need (for grade 10 and 11 students at risk of dropping out of high school).
I'd be willing to bet that there are similar programs in schools across America. I guess the point here is how do we bring these programs to the attention of Mr. Obama? And then how do we convince people that these programs should be available to all students? Those are the questions we should be asking and answering.