Thursday, November 6, 2008

Success, and Velcro, For All

The NY Times ran an interesting piece Monday about Eva Moskowitz's new charter schools -- run under the umbrella of her Success Charter Network. I noted a couple interesting things:

1.) Though she describes the "educational philosophy as a mix of the liberal Bank Street College of Education approach and the traditional Catholic school model," it's apparent that her schools, at least in some ways, are paternalistic. For one, they require that all kids wear velcro shoes so that untied shoelaces don't become a distraction. Given that the kids are all kindergartners and first graders right now, I can the merits of such a policy -- but it's certainly paternalistic. More importantly, she has taken the paternalism to a new level: not only are kids told how to live their lives, but parents are as well. Parents, for example, must read their kids 6 books/week and show up to any number of school activities. And if their kids are regularly late, parents have to come to Saturday detention as well.

2.) I've wondered countless times in this space to what extent charter schools have an "exit door," and to what extent that affects their operations. Moskowitz, at information session, has told parents “If you know you cannot commit to all that we ask of you this year, this is not the place for you.” And one parent at such a session reports that some parents left after hearing that statement and all of the expectations that would be placed upon them. I don't want to belittle the efforts of Ms. Moskowitz, but anybody who's worked in a school wishes they could make such statements to parents and kids before the year began . . . and most of them can't/couldn't.


kerri said...

how is insisting on velcro paternalistic? it's realistic, and pragmatic, because shoe-tying takes up so much of the teacher's time. in much the same way that no school (that i know of at least) allows you to send a kid to kindergarten who isn't potty trained -- it's not a statement about potty training, it's because the teacher doesn't have time to wipe every kid's ass all day. you clearly did not teach little kids! with both 2nd and 4th grades, i spent SO much of my time tying shoes and unsticking zippers, you wouldn't believe it. and kids go to pieces when they're untied, so it's not like you can tell them to suck it up or wait until's a real problem.

as for parents reading to kids and coming to saturday detention, i don't see those as paternalistic either. there's a school, it has rules and expectations, and if you don't like them/can't meet them, you're free to take your kids elsewhere. and that is the beauty of charter schools.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

Of course insisting on velcro shoes is paternalistic -- it's asserting that the school knows better than the child what style of shoes they should wear.

Similarly, of course telling parents how many books to read to their kids is paternalistic -- it's asserting that the school knows better than the parent how much they should read to their kid.

Paternalism isn't always a bad thing, but it's a something that traditional public schools can't do to the same extent.

Anonymous said...

Corey: I agree with you that charter schools are able to control their student population to a much greater extent than public schools. This is a factor that consistently seems to be left out of the media's attention to the greatness of private and/or charter schools. Any school that can require its parents to make a substantial ongoing committment to their children - and refuse to accept students without that level of parental committment - is going to have a serious advantage over a school that can't.

Kerri said that the beauty of charter schools is that if the parents don't like the rules/expectations of the school, they can take their children elsewhere. The problem: Where do you think the families who don't like the "rules and expectations" of charter schools send their children? Answer: To the regular public schools!

In a sense, this is "beautiful" for the charter or private schools - they only have to accept and retain students with supportive, involved parents who are committed to their children's education. But this is certainly not "beautiful" for the public schools that have no input as to the type of student who attends their school.