I just finished a week-long seminar during which I focused on how to improve by Religions of the Ancient Near East class by promoting an open space learning environment. This informative workshop about student self-authorship was put on by Xavier's Center for the Advancement of Teaching. While reflecting it struck me that so much of my work the past ten years has focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning, and I’ve had to learn a new “eduspeak” vocabulary and methodology. My graduate program, like the vast majority, trained me how to be an expert in my academic field, but offered little guidance in how to effectively create a learning environment. It’s been very difficult for me these past ten years to give up complete control of my classroom and get away from the centralized lecture format. But I'm trying.
Clearly the university I am at values education and the scholarship of teaching and learning, but it seems to me not too many other places do these days. I see this as especially true in New Orleans, where the charter movement is heralded on a daily basis for being the education messiah. Nearly all of our education leaders come from legal and corporate backgrounds, and they have no education about education, nor do they have classroom experience. Everyone says we need to run “public” schools like a business. In New Orleans, principals are now called CEO's and they make twice as much money as did pre-flood principals. Schools have no unions, and they much prefer 22-year-olds with no experience over the more costly senior teachers. Many of these new teachers majored in other disciplines, can't find jobs, and so come to teaching with no classes on how to be a teacher. So it would seem the field of education doesn’t value education. And it’s not just Louisiana, I read today that in Texas there are lucrative for-profit companies that offer teacher certification. The thing is though, that teachers are able to get certified without one minute of experience in front of a room full of students.
This all makes me furious. While I admit there are cases where charter schools are doing well, I wish there was more news about the drawbacks. Thing is though, charters are favored by powerful businesses, so voices favoring great schools for all students with shared power in which teachers made decisions at neighborhood schools, well, we don't get a very big audience. If I were a journalist, I would do two things in regards to charter schools: I would follow the money to learn about lucrative food contracts with Sodexo and I would look into how much money each school is spending on busing. People like to talk about how corrupt things were when the school management was centralized. I would argue there is just as much corruption now, it is just more difficult to find.