Thursday, October 30, 2014

Are Charter Schools "Motivating Kids," or just finding "Motivated Kids"

When I first saw the edu-documentary "Waiting for Superman," my first reaction to the stories of waiting lists for kids to get into high performing charter schools was simply, "Let them in." Heck, if a student wants to go to the rigorous, high performing school that offers him a better chance of success than his neigborhood school, then school districts should just let him in and build more schools if the current ones are at capacity. Of course, that is a knee-jerk reaction fueled by the pathos of the "for the children" argument of the movie.

The real issue of "charter schools" as the answer to struggling schools is far more complicated ... and potentially nefarious.

The criticism of the charter movement is that the schools simply "siphon off" the most motivated and high achieving kids, leaving behind the struggling and less motivated ones who will only drag the neighborhood school down more. And there is plenty of evidence for such charter school recruitment and enrollment tactics. Even when charter school supporters explain how they don't or can't "cherry pick" their students, the reality is that the students who enroll in charters must be motivated enough to pursue the opportunity, which means a lot more than just showing up at their neighborhood school each day. And the problem with students enrolling in charters is the movement does nothing to strengthen the struggling schools.

I remember visiting a charter, The Denver School of Science & Technology, with a friend from the business world who was promoting the school. DSST is truly one of the gems and success stories of Denver Public Schools. The problem comes when my friend said, "Isn't this impressive? Imagine if they could just run all schools this way." But it doesn't work that way. And the struggling schools that remain just become fodder for perpetuating the myth of "failing public schools."

Charter schools and education reformers are really only helpful and significant if they can succeed at "motivating students" and not just finding "motivated students."


Anonymous said... How do you propose we motivate students so they are successful regardless of type of school they attend? Thank you!

mmazenko said...

We offer choice. Kids are motivated by their interests. And we have diverse populations with diverse interests and needs.