Oakland Teachers Share Frustrations Over Charter Schools

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Lake View Elementary closed down in 2012, after 99 years. Its former building has since been occupied by an American Indian Charter School. Photo by Zack Haber.

Lake View Elementary closed down in 2012, after 99 years. Its former building has since been occupied by an American Indian Charter School. Photo by Zack Haber.

Though Oakland Unified School District superintendent Kyla Johnson Trammell and the school board have both recently proposed that the district collaborate more with charter schools, some Oakland teachers decry the regimented curriculum, long work days, and the dumping of struggling students who might lower the schools’ test scores that they’ve experienced working for charter schools.
When Jesse Shapiro left his job at Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory, a charter school, to teach at Oakland High School in 2008, he took a $4,000-a-year pay cut. He doesn’t regret his choice because Oakland High, a public school, allowed him to join a teacher’s union and have freedom to choose what he teaches.
Those opportunities weren’t available at Aspire Lionel Wilson.
Shapiro taught at the charter at the same time as Hillary Clinton was running against Barack Obama in the 2008 California presidential primary. School administrators discouraged him from teaching about the event as it occurred and encouraged him to follow the school’s regimented teaching timeline, which insisted he teach “The Federalist Papers.”
Algebra teacher Angelique Alexander, who recently left her job after one year at KIPP King Collegiate High School, a charter in San Lorenzo, to teach at Dewey Academy, a public school in Oakland, also said she felt frustrated with the school’s regimented teaching expectations. Her lesson plans had to be meticulously scripted, and administrators allowed little flexibility to reteach lessons if students did not understand what was taught the first time.
Alexander also felt her work schedule was excessive and unsustainable. Her on-site work¬day started at 7:30 a.m. and lasted until 5:30 p.m. Those hours did not include time for lesson planning. Her workday at Dewey Academy is shorter, running from 8 a.m. until 2:30 or 3 p.m. Though she took a $10,000-a-year pay cut to work at Dewey, she loves her new school and does not regret leaving KIPP King.
“The extra pay isn’t worth it,” she said.
Both Shapiro and Alexander felt pressured by their charter school’s administration to mark students’ grades higher than they felt many of their students deserved, and they both suspect they were pressured to inflate grades to improve their school’s reputation. They didn’t experience these practices in public schools.
KIPP King allowed many students into advanced math courses before Alexander felt they were ready. She thinks students were placed into advanced courses only to make KIPP King look more successful.
Although Aspire Lionel Wilson boasts higher test scores than most public schools in the district, Shapiro noticed that many of his students who were struggling to perform well academically left for other schools before they had the opportunity to take the standardized tests that schools use to measure their performance.
He thinks the school encouraged these transitions.
“I was teaching a class of about 60 kids at the beginning of the year, and by the end of the year in it was in the low forties,” he said. “So, you’re talking about a third of my students getting shipped away, and it was all the struggling students.”
Since funding for charter and public schools in California is based on total enrollment per student at the beginning of the school year, charter schools do not lose funding when they send students to another school mid-year. But public schools are required by law to accept the transfer and must absorb the cost of educating the student without receiving any of the student’s allocated funding.
Shapiro noted that since public and charter schools draw money from the state that would otherwise go to the public schools, the presence of charter schools harm nearby public schools.
“If anything is going to undo public schools right now, it’s going to be charter schools,” he said

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