This is for my fellow progressives and Democrats. Beware those who lambaste charter schools in the name of “public education.” Beware those who decry “privatization.” After all, what could be more “private” than a school serving a neighborhood with property taxes north of $10,000 a year or housing values of more than half a million dollars? Just because it’s publically funded doesn’t mean it’s equitable. Beware those who depict “education reformers” as some type of child-hating boogeymen. Above all, beware those who close the doors of access on families living in poverty, while their own children benefit from access to private schools, public magnet schools and rich suburban educational opportunities. I say this after watching teacher protests in progressive strongholds like Los Angeles, Oakland and Denver, and scanning troubling developments in staunchly Democratic bastions like New Jersey and New York. In Los Angeles, the teachers union used the
worn-out and phony argument that charters “drain resources” from the traditional schools, convincing many of my fellow Democrats to believe that the real danger to public school students is charter schools, not an
entrenched system that fails to hold schools or teachers accountable for helping students succeed. In
New York, Gov. Cuomo didn’t just retreat from including student achievement in teacher evaluations, he signed a law that all but ensures that student test scores will never be used to determine whether a teacher is effective. Maybe you’re nodding your head. Sure, I’ve joined with many of my fellow Democrats and progressives in decrying the drill-and-kill, mind-numbing test prep environments spawned by No Child Left Behind. I’ve heard them proclaim that our students are “more than a score!” But consider this.
In New York state in 2016, “About 96 percent of the state’s teachers were found to be ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective,’ and only 1 percent was rated ineffective. That same year, fewer than 40 percent of students statewide passed standardized exams in English and math.” Think about that. Would you believe that only 1 percent of surgeons were ineffective if 60 percent of their operations were unsuccessful? Would you believe that 96 percent of cars were safe if 60 perfect failed safety standards? Of course not. Just think about it: Sixty percent of students aren’t on grade level. But 96 percent of teachers are effective. It doesn’t make sense. It is, dare I say, rigged. As a parent of a child in New Jersey public schools, I am further dismayed by the continuation of this trend in the Garden State wherein 98.9 percent of teachers are deemed “effective” while nearly
half of students were not proficient in English and
60 percent were not proficient in algebra. And before people start blasting standardized assessments and how they aren’t accurate reflections of student learning or teacher impact, let’s take a breath. For one thing, as I’ve mentioned before,
true accountability ought to be holistic and include several measures of teacher effectiveness including student surveys, accountable coaching, and growth metrics, not just proficiency rates on standardized tests. But let’s also be honest with ourselves. Few of us would want to be operated on by a surgeon who hadn’t passed their MCATs or boards. Few of us would want to be represented by a lawyer who hadn’t passed the bar exam. Few of us would want to ride in a car driven by someone who hasn't passed their driver’s test. What makes education different? And before anyone says otherwise, I am also an educator who saw and continues to see significant student growth and excellence while being held accountable for my performance. I am a better educator for it. I am a staunch progressive. I might even be a straight-up socialist. I believe in re-distribution of educational funding along equitable lines. I believe in eradicating the alignment of school funding to property value. But I am not fooled by the narrow interests of the American teachers union conglomerate. It is no more progressive to take dollars from teachers union lobbyists than it is to take dollars from the NRA.
[pullquote position="left"]There is nothing progressive about denying families the right to access quality education regardless of their income, particularly when those who argue against charter schools have exercised school choice for their own children, be it in the form of tuition or mortgage payments. And I believe that my fellow liberals need to peel back the wool over their eyes and stop being beholden to teachers unions and start working for students.
Zachary Wright is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education, serving Philadelphia and Camden, and a communications activist at Education Post. Prior, he was the twelfth-grade world literature and Advanced Placement literature teacher at Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus, where he taught students for eight years—including the school's first eight graduating ...