A Contrasting View on Educational Reform

Education is a vast topic with many voices trying to put their opinion in on what needs to occur in order for reform to be possible. The educational system is an ever-changing system, constantly seeking to improve both for the good of the students and for the well-being of teachers. There is no one right answer to how the educational system should be reformed, as there will never be one solution that will make everyone present happy, but there are several organizations that offer valid options.

The first organization I looked at was the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s website. This organization “is the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the public charter school movement.” Who’s mission “is to lead public education to unprecedented levels of academic achievement by fostering a strong charter movement. This organization is attempting to show charter schools as a positive option for parents seeking a better schooling system for their children. More importantly, they are pushing for public funding to these charter schools, which is different from the current system that charter schools are funded. Instead of having charter schools stand entirely on their own, they argue for a system in which public charter schools are rewarded when working with traditional public schools; this would create unity between the two different options of education. I greatly appreciated this piece, as public and charter schools are often represented and understood as two conflicting opinions for education. I value unity and excellence above all else, and this organization seems to promote these. Much of their advice to help this reform/movement to continue is to become, unsurprisingly, an advocate for charter schools. By making your voice and opinion heard, the charter school movement would be able to progress quicker. Partaking in conferences and the National Charter School Week are some of the ways it is suggested you are can become an advocate for this movement.

Personally, I am against charter schools, be them privatized or public. For this organization to want government funding, I question what would make them different from the traditional public school. In my opinion, if you are receiving government funding, no matter how little that is, you become a public school and should teach to the same common core standards as all other public schools. I am not persuaded by this websites argument, as I see no difference between a public school and a public charter school, other than a label that insists upon freedom a teaching while receiving the same funding as school that are required to teach to specific standards.

The second organization I looked at was  Rethinking Schools’ Website, which promoted against the privatization of schools in order to promote “the common school”, one that allows students of diverse backgrounds to come together to “learn to talk, play, and work together.” This is a grassroots organization, whose methods of advocacy involve promotion, recommendation, and donation. They suggest spreading the word and message of the organization as its form of advocacy. I find this to be successful, if presenting the information to the right kind of audience. The spoken word can only do so much; those who are receiving my information/advocacy decide on whether or not they will accept my cause as their own. I appreciate the purpose of this organization: “Most importantly, it remains firmly committed to equity and to the vision that public education is central to the creation of a humane, caring, multiracial democracy. While writing for a broad audience, Rethinking Schools emphasizes problems facing urban schools, particularly issues of race.” Now, more than ever, inequality and inequity limit the educational system. By working against this, reform in schools can be made possible that will not only benefit the students, but also the faculty and the communities individual schools are located in.

I agreed far more with the purpose of this education. Instead of focusing on funding and the push of charter schools, they remind us of the “common school”. Diversity is so important and by placing the attention needed toward public schools, reform can be possible. These issues seem more pressing that those presented by the opposing organization. Most of the students in this country attend public schools. To me, this makes the problems surrounding the public school system are the most important ones to reform.

 Both organizations offer different issues with different solutions, but I lean toward the one that focuses upon public school reform.

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Issues in Education: My Take on Charter Schools

“One significantly comprehensive multi-state study found that 17 percent of charter schools outperformed traditional schools in reading and math on state achievement tests; 37 percent performed worse; and the rest, nearly half, performed about the same.” (Source Carr).

Recently, the House of Representatives has introduced a bill, known as the “Choice In Education Act” which would allow vouchers to be used in order to send a child to any school of their choice, using federal dollars to cover the expenses. Personally, I find there to be little benefit in charter schools, specifically after reading the above statistic. I find that many people seem to be roped into charter schools by the rumors and promises of a better and more specialized education, but this doesn’t seem to occur for the majority of the time.

Beyond that, the voucher system can cause more problems that many may realize. If a parent doesn’t want their child to go their general school, it may seem as though it is the proper, and better, option to send their child to the best school possible. This, however, can bring up issues of transportation, segregation, and unevenly distributed funding. Many bus routes have been canceled due to funding cuts, so just getting the child to school can be a large problem. Also, if you are able to take out these vouchers, and desire to send your child to an excellent school, they are often found outside of urban, low-income areas, and are often predominantly white. The voucher system could make this segregation even worse. And finally, the most important day for charter school is the head-count day. This is when they try to get as many children to attend as possible, as they are paid thousands of dollars per child. This is not the case for public or private schools in America.

Overall, I don’t support charter schools as they show no real improvement when compared to public schools, and it often seems to be more related to a business rather than a place focused on the students (ie: head-count day). This voucher system seems as though it will cause more issues than problems it may solve.

Meeting the Expert: Cathy Fleisher; How Can I be an Advocate?

After meeting with Cathy Fleisher, an expert in advocacy in education, I was able to broaden my ideas surrounding advocacy and the ways in which I am able to act to cause change. I greatly appreciated much of the things she talked about, specifically centering around the advocacy we are able to create and the broad horizon to which is applies. The  central idea in all of her ideas about advocacy is Community Organization, something that shows the joining together of a community toward a greater goal of change. It is key that there is a sense of unity and alliance in order to make change possible. This idea bled into the concept of Everyday Advocacy. It matters to know what you can do in your community and make those small changes. The small changes are the ones that are able to bleed into the larger changes.

Cathy also spoke of having patience, as much of the issues we are passionate about are lifelong journeys. It is easy to become frustrated, using one tactic after the next, without causing any true change, or using them as a way to claim advocacy doesn’t work if one tactic fails. Really, it is about setting both short term and long term goals and being proud when those goals are met. It is okay if we aren’t able to fully meet our goals or change the  world.

The biggest takeaway from this meeting with Cathy is that involvement is key in all aspects of advocacy. You must learn how to involve yourself in the community you are surrounded by, understand what that community needs to hear in order to gain them as allies, and then act. Change small things that will lead to bigger things. Beyond that, understand that advocacy and being an ally go hand in hand much of the time. You will sometimes need to be the voice of a movement or sometimes be an ally to such a movement.

Know the situation, know your cause, and act.

If you can do this, you are well on your way to becoming an advocate for the profession.

My Type of Leadership

I recently took the Leadership Compass Self Assessment in order to determine what my specific leadership style was. Not surprisingly, two of the types tied: Analytical and Vision. These two leadership styles seem to conflict with one another, but it makes sense. I am both very creative and emotionally driven, while remaining detached and analytical of situations. It really all comes down to the situation in which I need to lead. I seem to take strengths from both; I am very dependable like an analytic think is described as, while often thinking and living in the future (this can often act as a hinderance however and I am working against it).

I do realize that I may appear cold and withdrawn, but I can also become very emotionally engaged. It all depends on the situation. Really, as much as this quiz was fun to take, I am not taking it very seriously. If I completely invested in the results of this test, I could close myself off to other leadership approaches. That would not only hinder myself, but also my coworkers and students because if I am hindered, I impact all those that I interact with.

I like to think of myself as flexible above all else. I have grown beyond my younger, closed-off mindsets and hopefully the resistance to other kinds of leadership styles. I can use both of my leadership styles, so long as I mix them properly, and create a successful environment for me to work within.

Can Young Teachers be Advocates?

It seems to be a large point of confusion when attempting to understand who is an advocate within the system of education, why they are considered advocates, and how young teachers, including myself, are meant to become advocates themselves. It is common for a new teacher to feel unsure of themselves or feel as though they don’t have enough power to question authority. There are times when it is smart to follow the rules put in place, but there are other times that require action—any teacher, of any age, is capable of this.

After reading How Do You Know If You’re a Teacher Leader? by Precious Crabtree and How to Become a Teacher Advocate by Jessica Cuthbertson, I was given a new outlook on what it means to be a young teacher advocate and how leadership plays into this. As a young teacher, it is most important to understand that advocacy can occur in both large and small ways. As Cuthbertson explains, “Advocacy can be as informal as a one-on-one conversation with a parent or as formal as preparing public comments and testifying before a local school board, state board of education or other governing body.” Advocacy begins where you want it to begin, but know that you must begin.

Aside from beginning, find a source of community that will back you and support you through your journey through advocacy. This community can allow you to feel confident enough to share your thoughts and opinions on helpful change within the education system. This ties in the importance of finding the leader that is within us all. When you are able to find this, advocacy seems to come easier. Crabtree explains how leadership allowed her to find her own voice, specifically after finding a mentor that helped her along the way. Her article allowed me to understand how it is okay to not feel comfortable right away when thinking of how I can fill an advocacy role as a teacher. Crabtree mentions, “You see, as a young teacher I didn’t realize my voice mattered – but even if I had, I would have been afraid to use it.” This quote really stuck with me because I realize that it is both applicable to me and other young teachers within the profession.

It seems that is the most important thing to understand that your voice, regardless of how long you have been teaching or how young you are. This voice is what can be used to inspire action within others; it is what will spread the important issues that are effecting the educational system as a whole. Many may get wrapped up in the specific school they are located in; as an advocate, young or old, you should look beyond your current situation to the larger situation. Essentially, an advocate uses their voice to impact both their immediate and removed community.

These articles showed me that anyone can be an advocate, specifically young teachers that enter the profession with a strong passion for current issues effecting education. It is important to understand how important your voice is and to know how to use it.

Go out and advocate!