Saturday, January 22, 2011

Charles Payne

Ben and I heard Charles Payne speak this week.  He is currently a professor at the University of Chicago and has been studying education reform for many years.  I'm currently reading one of his books, So Much Reform, So Little Change.

He some interesting points to make about the current discourse on public school reforms.  (I'll just give you what he said and try to leave out my opinions.) 

  • He didn't spend much time talking about teacher's unions.  (Thank goodness!)  He pointed out that teachers unions take up too much time in these sorts of discussions.  His bottom line: they're not going away, unions are necessary in some way, and the fact that they have too much power is not the MAIN reason our schools are failing minority students. 
  • Reformers tend to come up with great ideas based on removing one component (principal, curriculum, program, etc...) and replacing it with something better.  The problem with this is that it does not consider the social and political entity into which the reform is being placed.  Failing urban schools often have a demoralized culture - one defined by mistrust and failure.
  • Even if we can get good teachers in an urban school, the lack of support and resources make it nearly impossible to keep them there.  For example, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has a 50% teacher turnover rate every 4 years.  Reformers should place more energy into figuring out ways to develop and support teachers.
  • In New York, the mayor literally took human and financial resources from wealthy schools and put them in poor schools.  Payne did not think this was humanly or politically possible until Bloomberg successfully reallocated these resources in New York.  (And guess what?  The wealthy schools didn't suffer at all.)
  • He said Waiting for Superman has one of the worsts lines in the history of American film regarding the idea that giving money and resources to poor schools doesn't work, therefore charter schools are the only solution.  He said something along the lines of "you can't tell me resources don't work when Evanston spends 22,000 per year per child and Chicago spends 6,000-8,000.  There is a difference."  
  • He pointed out that some charter schools do amazing wonders for children, but the majority aren't doing anything radical.  
  • The best alternative we've seen for public schools, especially for black male children, are Catholic schools... they do the fundamentals well.
  • He discussed the different Chicago mayoral candidates' goals for CPS.  One comment he made was about Rahm Emmanuel's idea of engaging parents by "calling on all parents to commit to help their child succeed by entering into a signed agreement with the teacher that outlines clear expectations for how they will help their child outside of the classroom." He said asking parents to enter into a signed agreement seems superior and demeaning.  He said he'd like to ask Rahm, what would make you personally disconnect from your child's education?  If Rahm were able to honestly answer that question, he might have a better idea of what CPS needs to do to reach parents of minority children in poor, failing schools.  This was just one of his comments about he mayoral candidates.
  • He said teacher training programs should have students spending more time in the classroom, beginning with their first education class and that they should stay in contact with their graduates, supporting them for several years into their teaching career.
 Those are just a few of the points he made.  Perhaps, more to come after I finish his book.