Charter-school teacher explains why she quit before her school could fire her

Nancy Bloom writes she was scheduled to be fired on June 1 in an annual ritual at her Hyde Park charter school. Instead, she quit May 31, tired of working 10-hour days for lower wages than her BPS counterparts, the mistrust by administrators, the weeks of dread leading up to June 1:

At least public schools and their unions have transparent guidelines for tenure and enough respect to let teachers know they won't be rehired for the next school year by March or earlier. June 1 is late to jump into the teacher hiring season. I suspect the administration keeps it a secret to the bitter end because they don't trust us to keep working hard. They are suspicious and we are paranoid. It's part of my school's culture.

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Spot-on.

This strikes every note I've seen from being married to a charter school teacher in Boston. The crazy hours, the lack of job security, the partially-dysfunctional work environment... wow. The only thing left unsaid is that charters make the progress that they do by feeding off the energy of educators in their early-to-mid 20's who are willing to make these sacrifices in order to feel (rightly, of course) like they're making a difference in the lives of kids who would otherwise be absolutely screwed. Unfortunately, you can't burn that bright and hot for long, so the churn is overwhelming--by 30, most of them are out, jaded cynics heading to suburban public schools for job security and less classroom chaos.

I have not yet seen a model of charter school that is able to affect significant changes in student outcomes without wreaking that kind of havoc on its teaching staff. I'd love to see the model that can balance work conditions and test scores, but I'm increasingly thinking that the two might be mutually exclusive.

Johnny Hard Hat chimes in

Please show us the entrance of the coal mine you work in so we'll finally know what a "real" job looks like.

You're going to get pink eye if you keep kissing that part of the bossman, slave.

You haven't been in the world long enough

Yeah when you have a job you have to please your boss. Give me a break

With that said, there's really so much anyone can take when you are a teacher. If you have worked for a charter school, you should know better. This is something typical of charter schools having disrespectful behavior towards teachers. Without unions to call these principals to carpet, you can be prepared for some type of abuse or over extension of the duties on teachers and not be paid for it.

Maybe these bright,

hard-working and qualified teachers can go back to urban public schools, who need them. And maybe we can get rid of charter schools altogether which do nothing but siphon money and kids off from the public school systems. More funding and more qualified teachers are what urban public schools need.

Completely false

charter schools altogether which do nothing but siphon money and kids off from the public school systems. More funding and more qualified teachers are what urban public schools need.

First - charter schools do not siphon kids off from public schools - charters ARE public schools (just not unionized). Anybody can go - it's by lottery, although admittedly there is a deselection process - parents and kids that don't want this kind of education for their kids opt out - to some level. But many can't get in - I believe about 10% of the kids in BPS are on waiting lists to get into charters because they are so evil. Getting rid of charters is about the adults and the union, not the kids. While nothing's perfect, thousands of kids are thriving in these charters who were formerly languishing in BPS and as far as I'm concerned, that's all that's important.

Second - they don't siphon money off - actually the public school system MAKES money off charters. First - they only have to pay to the charter system the cost of a regular ed student. They don't have to compensate for pensions, retiree benefits and external funds - about 35% of the cost of educating a public school student. Charters also have to pay for their own real estate. Public schools get their real estate virtually free beyond operating and basic maintenance. Finally, the state PAYS the system money for transitioning kids to charters - I think full value of regular ed the first year, 50% the second and 33% the third. BPS has made in the range of $75-$100 million for kids already in charters and is in line to make over $100 million for the 5000 or so expected to matriculate in the next several years. This is a windfall for BPS.

Third - Maybe funding will help some other urban systems - but not Cambridge or Boston which are both in the top 5 in per capita spending in the state. There is no problem in BPS that more money is going to fix.

Fourth - I'd say most teachers in Boston are qualified - but I think the system stymies the best at every turn. I don't get it - I keep reading in comments (from teachers) that Boston teachers spend 12 hours a day 6-7 days a week working. But then the union is arguing that if the city wants 30 minute longer school days they need to pay the teachers more. I could see them arguing that some other work has to go, but why should the city pay you more for the same amount of work you are already doing - especially when that means that some other departments are going to have to get cut so that we can afford this? I'd be curious where the union thinks the city should cut so that we can give the teachers more. Not saying they aren't worth it (they are already almost the highest paid in the nation) - just saying there isn't any more money.

"Completely false" is false

As per usual with charter advocates, fantasy overrides facts, and "me first" values dominate any sense of civic responsibility.
Re First: charters are the halfway house towards privatization of public education. It is exactly and only because they take public money that they have any grounds at all for being called "public" schools. But they may be operated by, sometimes, profit making corporations, sometimes by local groups of survivalists. What these groups have in common is that they are none of them publicly accountable to the cities and towns in which they operate but from whom they take education dollars.

Re Second, the "windfall argument": The loss of state education aid owing to charters is phased in over several years. This hardly represents a windfall as it only allows the public schools to start phasing out programming gradually rather than all at once. Absent the phased reductions in funding, communities would see sharp declines in their school budget each time a new charter was brought on line, and the outrage over negative impact of charters would be even greater than it now is.

Charters have been touted by some as financial electro-shock treatment for stimulating changes in public education. That's a fair description, but you can't argue both that charters are good because they threaten the finances of public schools and that they are good because they bring new money for public schools. They truth is that they are *not good for public education because they *do threaten the finances of public schools. The data indicate that charters are no better for children than electro-shock therapy is for depressed patients.

Re 3, public schools have no problem that more money is going to fix. The logic of this argument is probably fine for people who just don't care about public schools. Assuming for the moment that more money won't "fix" what the author evidently considers broken schools in BPS, it doesn't follow at all that cutting funds to these schools is an answer. (If feeding a child with pneumonia won't "fix" his illness, it doesn't follow you can starve him to health.) Note that the author is close to admitting the implausible denial about no financial harm owing to charters.

Sooner or later the state, and the country, are going to be called to a reckoning over their neglect of public school and the irresponsible move towards privatization via charters and vouchers.

Your completely false is false is false

At least in Mass and especially in Boston. Like so many other things, we've done it the right way (which we do really well when we get egos and politicians pushed as far aside as possible):

Your criticisms may apply to charter programs elsewhere, but that's generally not how we do it in Mass.

Bottom line - there are about 5000 kids thriving in charters in Boston many of whom were languishing in BPS. There are about that same number on the waiting list to get in. Charters are generating these results for 20-30% less than their public counterparts.

I don't call $22,000 per student "neglect of public schools" in Boston (and closer to $25k in Cambridge). I call that wasting money when the charters do a better job for less and still have enough to pay rent for their space (and maybe even still generats a profit as you say - now that's a frightening display of how much waste there is in the public system-I know - it's all spent on special ed - but if you study the numbers that's actually totally bogus also). I don't care if you think it's privatization (even though they are spending mostly tax dollars). The kids come first in my book, not some idealistic but broken and antiquated "public" system. For some reason the public zealots are intent on putting the system ahead of the kids.

However, we appreciate your input Mr. Stutman.

I came to the same conclusion, only different

Unfortunately, you can't burn that bright and hot for long, so the churn is overwhelming--by 30, most of them are out, jaded cynics heading to suburban public schools for job security and less classroom chaos.

Does it make sense to have people make a career out of teaching, at least in the inner city? I've seen the difference these young motivated professionals make in a child's life. Experience beyond a few years doesn't seem to add much value - and in some ways as you describe may detract from a teacher's value. Maybe the model the charters are giving us is that for the inner city especially is that we need teachers willing to do that kind of job, albeit for a short time. If they want the 'burbs after that - fine. But these teachers (your wife included) are valuable well beyond what we could ever pay them in giving these kids a chance that most would never have in BPS. The school I support takes in 6th graders from BPS that are 2 years behind grade level on average - by 8th grade they regularly test among the elite schools in the state. The charters are supposed to be educational laboratories - and one observation of this seems to be that energy and drive these young teachers bring to work every day trump experience at least for inner city kids.

Charter schools are filters.

Charter schools are filters. By and large kids end up in charter schools because their parent(s) took an active role. Parents taking an active role in their child's education is probably the most significant factor in their success. It's nothing magical that charters do that the public schools don't, it's the parental involvement. Show me a charter that just takes 400 Boston kids, without the option of filtering or rejecting them, and achieves anything radically better than the public schools do with the same kids.

Charter schools as filters

I think your comment pretty much nails it. My kids have been lucky enough to attend good private schools, and when people ask what the money buys, I say four things:

  1. Student-to-teacher ratio.
  2. Absence of politicized BS (furors over pledge of allegiance, school prayer, sex ed curriculum, etc.)
  3. Administration can fire bad teachers; board can fire bad administration
  4. Every kid there is there because he or she has some significant adult in his or her life (usually a parent) who values education.

The last point may be the most important.