All three types of choice schools have excellent records that are virtually indistinguishable. Our application-only school market is oversaturated, however, and we must think anew.
OKC’s Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Reach College Preparatory, for instance, does great work, but its potential is maxed out. It still serves about half of the students as the old Moon Middle School that it replaced, as well as onethird of its special education students.
It is no insult to KIPP to acknowledge that it doesn’t face the same challenges as Douglass Mid-High or Centennial Mid-High.
During MAPS, all OKC public school neighborhood high schools were about two-thirds low-income. After choice separated the easier-to-educate students, they became about 90- to 100-percent low-income. We crossed a tipping point and created schools serving unmanageable concentrations of troubled students from extreme poverty. Nationally, efforts to improve such schools almost always fail.
The biggest harm to traditional public schools was not caused by choice. Had charters not existed, parents still would have increasingly fled to magnet and suburban schools to escape the educational legacy of generational poverty, made worse by bubble-in testing. No Child Left Behind fostered a punitive mentality that undermined MAPS’ humane policy recommendations.
Families reject the chronic disorder of many high-challenge schools. This chaos results from a critical mass of traumatized students acting out their pain being placed in high-poverty schools. MAPS began the difficult challenge of creating respectful learning environments. The resources we needed for socio-emotional supports, however, were diverted to highstakes testing.
With the rise of corporate reform, charters became part of a scorched-Earth, anti-public education political campaign. Test scores of high-performing charters became a weapon to destroy the educational “status quo,” in other words, school boards and unions. The privatizers’ big lie was that “no excuses” schools serve the same kids as neighborhood schools. It didn’t happen here, but many districts not only gave huge competitive advantages to charters but intentionally damaged neighborhood schools by dumping high-risk students on them.
It was not the fault of our public schools that top-down, high-stakes testing sucked the air out of efforts to provide holistic instruction to all students, and today’s leadership is again empowering educators. For example, progress at John Marshall Mid/High School reminds me of the advances we made at the old John Marshall when MAPS first authorized site-based management.
Enterprise schools such as Marshall and the award-winning Belle Isle Enterprise Middle School exemplify the best of choice without the downsides of charters. Operating under a thin union contract, enterprise schools empower teachers, parents and students.
Teams of educators have no inclination to damage their brethren in neighboring schools by dumping the most challenging students on them. Parents shield their children from test prep malpractice. Enterprise schools use site-based management to maximize the energy of all stakeholders. They are a bottom-up, collaborative way to reclaim the energy that MAPS for Kids released.
Thompson blogs regularly on national education issues at The Huffington Post, This Week in Education, School Matters and Living in Dialogue.