Amy Murray’s poignant article about “that kid” is timeless and will undoubtedly resonate with parents and teachers for a long time. I know I will share it with my teacher education majors and, thus, will reread it many, many times. And each time I know it will bring a tear to my eyes because, as I said in an earlier posting, I am a mother of one of “those kids.”
A thought occurred to me as I think about current education reform and the notion that charter schools are the panacea for all the perceived problems associated with our education system. Much has been written about the practice of charter school operators who counsel out or overtly exclude special needs students. We must acknowledge, however, that these are not the only students that meet the brick wall of exclusion by charter schools. I think it’s safe to say that “those kids” would be problematic for charter school operators. However, unlike traditional public schools, charter schools typically have a built-in mechanism to remove these students from their school. Many teachers in charter schools will never have to explain anything about “that kid” to other parents — except, perhaps, to say, “we’re taking care of the situation” before “that kid” is dismissed from the charter school.
A key feature of charter schools is the contract that parents, students and teachers are required to sign prior to enrollment. Students are required to sign a contract agreeing to adhere to strict discipline policies. The contract explains that failure to live up to that contractual agreement will result in sanctions and punishments and, ultimately, to dismissal from the charter school. So, for charter school administrators and teachers, the contract signed by students contains a “termination of contract clause” for “those kids” who have difficulty adhering to the discipline policies that are at the heart of the charter school experience. They can be “disappeared” from charter schools and sent back to their traditional public school — where I hope they will find kind teachers who will welcome them back with open arms.
What about parents who see charter schools as a way to protect their children from “those kids?” A word of caution is in order. You may be surprised at how little it takes to have your child labeled as problematic by charter schools. If their test scores are too low, that can be seen as problematic to the mission of the charter school whose survival relies on increases in test scores. I read a charter school application recently that required parents to agree to have their children re-assigned to a different grade at the beginning of the year. In other words, you may enroll your 3rd grade child in the charter school, only to learn at the beginning of the school year that your child has been re-assigned to 2nd grade! Well, that’s one way to game the standardized tests — make students repeat grades until they get it right. And, while parents may know that their children can be a little “independant” — or not perfect — they may not realize that little misdeeds (like chewing gum, not looking straight ahead in the hallway, not responding with razor precision to a teacher’s prompt, etc., etc. — the list can be extensive) can quickly add up when a charter school doesn’t think your child is useful capital for their mission. Your child may indeed become one of “those kids” quite quickly in a charter school environment. And when or if that happens, I hope your child’s return to the traditional public school is made easier by a teacher like the one described by Amy Murray.