What If We Weren’t Afraid?

If Arizona continues to support expansion of “school choice” (charters & private), what will happen to local (non-charter) public schools? Teachers, what will happen to your jobs if it becomes widely accepted to staff schools with non-certified teachers? Support public schools and certified public school teachers!

I think that these are some pretty important questions, ending with a really important statement. I’ve had these sentences in my email signature at work for the last few months. I don’t really remember what finally pushed me over the edge and provoked this move. It was probably something on the radio, an online article, or something that someone said. I’m frankly sick of hearing people saying bad things about public schools while plugging the most recent charter or private school voucher program.

When I added these statements, I knew it was a slightly edgy decision and wondered if one of my supervisors would ask me to delete them. (I really respect my supervisors and would take these sentences out of my signature line without arguing). But none of my supervisors, who I correspond with regularly, have mentioned them. I suppose that they might not have noticed them or forgotten to mention them to me. Yesterday, a trusted colleague called me about these sentences and expressed concern. She said that she was worried they might “bite me in the butt” and that they “didn’t represent me well.” However, she added that she agrees with them and suspects that many other public school educators agree as well. This dichotomy provoked a lot of thinking on my hike yesterday.

Representing my district professionally is incredibly important to me. I value my leadership roles, the influence I have on others, and my relationships with colleagues. I want the things I do to enhance my district, school, and classroom. As a doctoral student, I have read many eye-opening books/articles these last few years that have increased my concerns about politics in education today. There are many political issues that, in my opinion, should not be brought to my workplace or discussed through any district means. (We have a strict political code in our handbook that prevents this anyhow). But political decisions are infiltrating my classroom, school, and district everyday! Where exactly is the line and why do we feel afraid as public school educators and district officials? I started thinking about whether advocating for public schools is part of my job, and whether I’m willing to risk possible problems that might come from doing so.

Here is where I am at: I think that advocating for non-charter, public schools in Arizona is a dying craft (that may have never started anyhow). And I’m really concerned about the lack of advocacy! I don’t mean to sound like a war monger, but charters and private school voucher programs are leading a strong attack on public schools, defunding our classrooms, and especially defunding the low-income Title I school district that I serve. I don’t have anything against the charters who already exist, given that they hire certified teachers, pay them fairly, and admit all students without exclusive admissions policies that prevent under-achievers or minority students from attending. (I wrote about these concerns here.) But I am really concerned about companies that are planning to build MORE charters. I really don’t think that we need more schools, and I don’t believe in the ‘survival of the fittest’ business model that is encroaching on educational policy. What I see happening is ‘survival of the most financed,’ and it seems clear that the least financed schools will soon be non-charter public schools. I think school choice in Arizona is a gimmick to re-segregate groups of students by social class and race. Recent research shows us that this is what we face in Arizona as a consequence of ‘school choice.’ And I don’t like what this will do to the students I serve in my school.

Where exactly is the line that we should walk as public school educators? What should we talk about at work? What should we include in our email signatures? And what conversations do we need to have in our community? It seems clear to me that more conversation is needed. It’s time for public school teachers to except the sad fact that there is a war going on. If we want to preserve public school education, we better start talking–A LOT!

I haven’t decided if I will delete my email signature line yet, but I’m strongly leaning toward doing so on Monday. If a person who knows me well thinks that these words ‘don’t represent me well,’ I should probably heed her caution. The next person who mentions it might speak with words of punishment instead of love. But worrying about these things has made me feel deeply sad about the fear educators face in this political landscape. As I delete these words on Monday, I will wonder: What would happen if we weren’t afraid?

5 thoughts on “What If We Weren’t Afraid?

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  1. Well said! I agree with this posting 100%. People who are advocating for charter schools may not realize that the funding that charters get impacts traditional schools. In a state where schools are funded LAST in the nation (depending on your source. But no where are we listed above #46), it seems to me that we should first be properly funding the traditional schools that serve 83-85% of the state’s students (again, depending on the source). THEN we can discuss funding charters. And this doesn’t even take into account ESA’s, which fund private schools (again, at the expense of traditional public schools). It’s criminal.

    We have to be talking about it. We have to.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for describing the attack on AZ (and nationally too) traditional public schools so accuratlely, succinctly and articulately. I am the parent of students that attend(ed) public schools in AZ. My husband and I are both products of AZ public schools. I plan to remain a vocal advocate for our public schools even after my youngest graduates this year. THANK YOU for speaking the truth!

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    1. Sandy, thank you so much for your comments and advocacy in the community. My husband and I attended (non-charter) public schools and intend to have our future kids do the same. It amazes me how many people are misled to think that charters are “better” than other public schools–especially when there is much research to disprove this misconception. Charters spend a lot more time on Public Relations than we do as public schools, and I think this is part of the problem. I appreciate that you are speaking out for non-charter public schools! Keeping the dialogue going is incredibly important. Speak on!

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  3. i disagree. I am a parent. I feel that public school is largely one size fits all education. There is already segregation going on, if you live on a good area of town you go to a good public school. If you live in a middle/low part of town you dont have that luxury. I have two kids who don’t fit the mould when it comes to education, I’ve been lucky to find a great charter with certified teachers who are helping my kids. If you want to advocate for something maybe it should be to change public schools so they can adapt to different learning styles. One size fits all education does not work for everyone.

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    1. Hi, Marilyn! I appreciate your comments, and I’m sorry that your experiences in public school were not good experiences. Equally, I am so happy that you found a charter with certified teachers that support your children in their learning! All kids deserve a great education. I wanted to clarify that I believe there are good charter schools out there (I have some friends who work at them!). My concerns are related to the ongoing expansion of NEW charters because this business model of growth could possibly put existing schools (publics and current charters like the one you speak of) out of business. Hopefully, both my school and your children’s school will not be negatively affected by the ongoing expansion of charters in the metro-Phoenix area! Since each charter is different (some having exclusionary policies, required parent-volunteer hours, requirements for parents to provide their own transportation, and uncertified teachers), it is hard to know what will be left at the end of this “survival of the most-financed” game I see at hand. Thank you once again for sharing your comments. I appreciate the conversation and dialogue!

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