“Alternatives for the Alternative”

by Dr. Andre Perry, contributing columnist to The Louisiana Weekly and assistant professor of higher education. Dr. Perry’s comments on education can be heard every Friday on WWNO at 5:30 p.m. The essay is available here and was broadcast Friday, January 11, 2008 (emphasis added; my comments are in brackets):

If there is a “charter experiment,” then its primary research question should be, how can local schools create an inclusive environment that is both educationally rich and transformative? In other words, find ways to educate the special needs kids you receive?

Instead of solutions that point towards inclusion, charter leaders are asking for alternative schools. Funny, we want to create another system of schools that is prima facie evidence of school leaders’ inability to educate all kids. [Inability or unwillingness? Sounds like the old schools, doesn't it?] Simply, many educational leaders want to create alternatives to the alternative. [When test scores are critical to a school's survival, those who do not score/test well are clearly on-paper liabilities, correct?]

We can assume that every group or person who put forth a charter application should have known the depth of public students’ needs. It was the system and not the students that many of us claimed to be broken, remember? [And those who felt it was the children and their parents who wree broken? Remember them?] With the advent of the Recovery School District, we can more easily track the character and performance of each school’s student accountability system and monitor their pain threshold for special needs kids.

The uneven movement of these diverse learners from independent charters to the RSD suggests a high degree of push-out.

The term push-out describes the institutional response to kids who are deemed uneducable. Many of the students who are transferring into RSD schools would be considered the most difficult. Some are physically harmful to themselves and others. Most require intensive behavior modification programs, special educational services, hugs and kisses. [This seems cute but it is true--children need more than protein and religion to grow and learn and some of the "hardest to love" kids need the most indulgence, nurturing and play.] However, encouraging or pushing students to another site does not give the charter experiment the opportunity to learn how to transform these cast-aways into scholars.

Paul Pastorek has to take a hard line on this push-out or dumping activity. You wanted to educate all students, then do it. The sad response has been, “we don’t have the resources.” Well, why did you take on the charter? More importantly, why did the state issue you a charter? Should you continue to operate your charter? Clearly some the new schools are too dependent upon the state and the RSD. [And why did the state take over a whole school system with few plans in place?]

For all the folks who still want to open a charter school, if you can’t reasonably make good faith efforts towards the concept of independence, then don’t ask for one. Charter leaders must have the entrepreneurial spirit and skill to find funding outside of the typical streams to fix roofs, buy books and even assess, educate and transform special needs children. [Parents are seen as of those "typical streams" which can make having a child in a charter school an unexpected expense, and a hard one to meet at times.]

Research shows that mainstreaming is the most effective way to educate special needs children. Certainly, this approach requires adequate support in the form of staff and expertise. However, these costs pay educational dividends. Actually, having diverse learners in your school encourages the type of differentiated teaching systems that are all the rave of progressive and successful schools. Instead of viewing the special education population as a curse, we should see it as a blessing.

On the flip side, Pastorek and Paul Vallas must provide incentives to schools that are retaining and educating students with special needs. Maybe student retention should be given higher weight on school performance scores. In addition, universities must step up to the plate and provide assessment services and legal advice to school leaders. Individual schools seemingly can’t perform these critical functions alone. The state needs a hub that can provide services for all charters. If public colleges of education can’t lend their expertise and resources then why am I talking to you right now?

Haven’t we heard enough rhetoric from educational leaders?

Looks like Loyola dumped its education department just in time……

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One Response to “Alternatives for the Alternative”

  1. ashley says:

    Ask him if he saw season 4 of The Wire. Damn…

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