I was reading this Tim Wise essay and thinking about the endless conflict between reform from the inside and pressure to reform from the outside.
There are all kinds of things about public education that aren't good, although they're not really the ones that education reformers are worried about. It's a system set up by the dominant culture to serve itself; while it may not actively conspire against the oppressed, it is at best apathetic towards them. Education assumes many white norms; we assess for things that aren't necessarily that important (and are sometimes contrary to civic wellness) in ways that prioritize and prize certain ways of learning and doing over others.
I know people who are involved with charter schools because they believe the system cannot be repaired; if all children are going to be educated, it will have to happen from outside pressures. It's a radical view, I suppose.
Of course, on the ground it's remarkably less radical. High STAR test scores don't correlate with healthy societies or even high-needs children going to college and getting white-collar jobs. Nor is it really outside: few charter schools are upending the system to teach different material in different ways. Moreover, it's a scorched-earth policy. For those children who are in the public schools, the charters that may someday make everything better are currently making everything worse. Charters conspire with the corrupt and oppressive systems in public education to make the situation worse for most. Even if their goal is to eventually succeed with every child and to create a anti-racist education, a lot of learners will be sacrificed before that happens. And those learners will not be knowingly, willingly sacrificed: education battles are in the end fought not only about our children, but on and by our children.
Generally I believe that reform from the inside is unsuccessful, and if I push myself I have to admit it's probably unsuccessful here, too. Some of the things that make my classroom a good place for the children in it support a system that prevents systemic change. For instance, at this point my classroom is almost entirely stocked by the goodwill and private dollars of strangers. The materials available are good for my students; the acceptance that public financing is secondary isn't.
In some ways, teaching Kindergarten makes it easier to remove oneself from the system. I don't give a standardized test. Kindergarten isn't even a legal requirement for children in California; while there are standards I must teach, I have remarkable leeway in how I choose to do it. And showing up to work each day and doing my job means that I can't look at my class and think about PreK to prison pipelines very much; hopelessness is real and not productive when you're in the thick of it.
So sometimes I feel like the battles we're having about education - about how to teach reading, about funding, about teachers and their unions, etc. - are sugarcoating helping us avoid the real argument about what school is and what we want it to be.
But I'm pretty sure that the outside pressure of charter schools aren't going to make that conversation happen.