Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ping Pong Balls and Children's Fates

Thomas Friedman weighs in with this op-ed today about a lottery to enroll in a charter boarding school in Baltimore. Friedman's wife is on the board of the SEED Foundation, which runs charter boarding schools in multiple cities, and is opening the new one in Baltimore. The one in D.C. has, apparently, been quite successful, and the new school had 300 applicants for the 80 spots. Friedman attended the lottery through which enrollees were selected and argues that it's sad to see childrens' fates determined by ping pong balls - and that it shouldn't be this way (not in the sense that charter school enrollment shouldn't be determined by lottery, but in the sense that everybody should have access to a high-quality school).

I have a number of thoughts about the article:

1.) Boarding school. Interesting. Evidence seems to indicate that a lot of things about the home-life of inner-city students hold them back, so I guess this is one way to potentially overcome that. By my calculation, a student who attends 180 7-hour days of school spends about 14% of their time in school over the course of a year -- about 22% of their waking hours if they sleep 8 hours/night. A boarding school could potentially oversee kids for a majority of their time. I'd like to know more about how they use the extra time they have with the kids as a result of this set-up.

2.) Friedman reports that SEED schools are funded by both public and private funds. I know in most places that charter schools receive less funding per-pupil than other public schools, but I wonder how much money some of these schools raise from private sources and how their total funding (private + public) compares to other public schools in the district. If anybody has seen these figures anywhere, please let me know.

3.) I wonder how the parents of the children who applied to the lottery compare to others in Baltimore. Are parents who want to send their kids to a boarding school more concerned about their education, more eager to get rid of their kids, or no different from others?

4.) I agree that children's fate shouldn't be determined by a ping pong ball, but what's the solution? Obviously, high-quality schools for all; but is the SEED Foundation moving us toward this goal? We'll assume for the moment without further investigation that their schools are, in fact, wonderful places. Given this, are they replicable? Do we have the personnel and finances to replicate these schools for every student in Baltimore and other cities? I'm guessing not, but I'd also guess that not every student in Baltimore wants to attend a boarding school. In that case, can SEED schools be part of a system that provides excellent options for all? I don't see why not.

4 comments:

Rachel said...

I know in most places that charter schools receive less funding per-pupil than other public schools, but I wonder how much money some of these schools raise from private sources and how their total funding (private + public) compares to other public schools in the district. If anybody has seen these figures anywhere, please let me know.

This a question I'm interested in, but I've never seem any comprehensive information on it. My guess is that some charter schools receive a significant amount of private money, and some very little.

One of my pet peeves about discussions of charter schools is that is that the focus has become "charter" vs. "non-charter" rather than any of the innovative things a charter is doing.

Clearly, if SEEDS schools demonstrate that boarding schools make a real difference, even for some kids, that's an interesting addition to the educational policy debate.

And if other charter schools that get private funding show that how they use the funding -- whether for higher teacher salaries, longer school days, or innovative technology -- those are interesting distinct outcomes.

But a lot of people now suggest -- by pointing to individual charter schools -- that "charter" is a silver bullet, without any discussion the funding level or program of the successful schools. This is unfortunate, because instead of focusing the discussion on what works for kids, it turns it into a shoving match between adults over governance models.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

That's true -- not everything that is done in a charter school can be done only by charter schools. I'd have to imagine that quite a few practices can be implemented in traditional public, charter, or private schools.

Nancy Flanagan said...

I found this article unbearably sad. The idea that families would have to pray that their kids would be randomly chosen to leave home and family to "save their lives"--there's something wrong here, and it isn't about how we can afford to fund more of these all-encompassing rescue missions, charter or otherwise.

Are we saying that the only way kids in extreme poverty can become well-educated and lift themselves out of poor neighborhoods and lifestyles is to move away from home? That's a pretty awful statement, not to mention uncomfortably judgmental. And damning to American social norms. If it's true, what does it say about our national commitment to building human capacity?

Corey Bunje Bower said...

If SEED is the only thing that can save them then, yes, that is awful.

If it's one of a few options, not all of which would include leaving their family and attending boarding school, then it's still pretty bad.