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Two Bloggers Take Down NYTimes for Editorial Advocating Charter’s Ability to Hire Anyone

November 5, 2017

I was busy yesterday morning so I missed an opportunity to react quickly to an editorial that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times titled “The Best Charter Schools Deserve More Leeway on Hiring”… so instead, with a tip of the hat to Diane Ravitch who shared these posts, I’m going to highlight the cogent arguments advanced by bloggers Arthur Goldstein and Peter Greene.

Mr. Goldstein, who blogs as NYC Educator, bluntly titled his post opposing the editorial: “NYTimes Endorses Low Standards”. Mr. Goldstein quotes the NYTimes editorial followed by his own thoughts:

New York’s high-performing charter schools have long complained that rules requiring them to hire state-certified teachers make it difficult to find high-quality applicants in high-demand specialties like math, science and special education. They tell of sorting through hundreds of candidates to fill a few positions, only to find that the strongest candidates have no interest in working in the low-income communities where charters are typically located.

Curiously, it’s escaped the Times’ notice that public school teachers work in every single one of those communities without exception. And if we take this paragraph at face value, it clearly states that the strongest candidates have no desire to teach at these charters. Why is that? Is it because of the neighborhoods they’re in? Or could it possibly be that they don’t wish to work under substandard conditions in Moskowitz test-prep factories? Maybe they don’t feel like giving scripted lessons and wish to develop their own teacher voice.

I would add two other possible reasons “…the strongest candidates have no desire to teach at these charters”: they may want to take jobs that pay a lot more money in the affluent suburbs or they might want to make teaching a career and not a two year “community service” project.

Mr. Greene, whose blog is titled Curmudgucation, offers several observations in his post titled “NY Times Offers Dumb Endorsement”. I found one that criticized the editorial board’s fact-checking especially insightful:

The editorial notes that charter schools “made good on their promise to outperform conventional public schools,” which is a fact-check fail two-fer. First, it slides in the assertion that charters are public schools, even though NYC’s own Ms. Moskowitz went to court to protect her charter’s right to function as a private business, freed from state oversight. If NYC charters are public schools, then McDonald’s is a public cafeteria. Second, it accepts uncritically the notion that charters have “outperformed” anybody, without asking if such superior performance is real, or simply an illusion created by creaming and skimming students so that charters only keep those students who make them look good.

The second point is especially important given that the SUNY board that oversees charters in NYS’s especially convoluted governance structure is only going to offer “the highest performing” charter schools this opportunity. If the highest performing charters are the ones that lure the highest performing students (i.e the skimmed students) then it will become increasingly difficult for the charters who serve ALL students to qualify for this “benefit”.

Mr. Greene saves his strongest criticism for the NYTimes critique of the current certification process:

And then there’s the intellectually sloppy assertion that it is “beyond doubt … that the state certification process is failing to provide strong teachers in sufficient numbers to fill the demand.” No, no it’s not. If I can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, it is not beyond doubt that automobiles are being manufactured in insufficient numbers. What’s beyond doubt is that charters (like a few gazillion schools in the US) are having trouble finding people who want to work for them under the conditions they’re offering. If the New York Times can’t find enough good reporters to work for them for $2.50 an hour, the solution is not to just drag anyone off the street who can peck at a keyboard, and the New York Times editorial board damn well knows it.

This brought to mind an anecdote shared with me in one district where I worked. My predecessor was invited to meet with business leaders in the district, one of whom ran a clothing store. When the clothing store operator, who was notorious for offering only the lowest possible wages in order to keep his overhead down, complained that the school was turning out poor products and asking for outrageous sums of taxpayer’s money my predecessor had a good retort. He complained about a shirt he purchased on sale at the businessman’s store, indicating that the buttons came off after only two wearings and the threads on the collar frayed quickly. The store owner asked the brand of the shirt. My predecessor shared the brand name, and the businessman said he should have spent a little more money and gotten a different brand…. to which my predecessor replied: “I think you’ve made my point”.

If editors want better public schools they should look at the schools that are the best in the region by any measure and recognize that they pay a premium for their teachers. They just might conclude that money matters in the operation of schools the same way it matters in the purchase of shirts.

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