There are many examples of schools, both good and bad, in the United States (as in any country) but I am always amazed to see the intense debate about ‘charter schools’ going on here. An an Australian who can’t really see what a charter school is like in person, I was keen to take an opportunity to visit one when I could and see what the controversy was all about.
Fortunately, this month I am visiting the United States with the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), run by the U.S. State Department. After putting a call out, I was lucky enough to have some teachers on my Twitter (@joemanko @Teachbaltshaw) suggest I should check out Two Rivers Public Charter School while in Washington D.C.
For those who don’t know what charter schools are, Uncommon Schools offers a good summary here.
For charter schools the road has not been easy. There are continuous calls for more accountability, groups have filed lawsuits and others make arguments against them. While some organisations like teachers unions would naturally be opposed to ‘independent schools’ run with government funds I feel disallowing them completely would be a sad opportunity to see more flexible teachers develop and trial better learning models.
However, I believe that large societies who let the government run public services need to provide room to show the state how to innovate and improve what they offer. While I don’t think privatisation of education is a good option, allowing not-for-profit groups to run schools in an innovative way is a thing the U.S. should be proud of.
Two Rivers PCS is a great example of how a community came together to build a great school for their local kids. A huge thanks to the Principal Miss Maggie for taking me on a tour of her school with two students.
I was very impressed the fact that they use the same level of public funding per student as D.C. Public Schools (or slightly less) to provide a school that offers two fully qualified teachers per classroom (a senior and assistant teacher). They also incorporate project based learning from the age of 3-13, allowing students to have a real-life and practical understanding of why they are learning different skills in different classes.
While I am sure this is the case in many other schools, students were all very happy, excited and loved their school very much. The two students I listened to were very happy with the way their classes were focused on a project they could relate to like redesigning an unused space locally to help the community, or providing a map and profiles of important people at the school for new students.
Speaking with a few teachers showed me how independent public schools can help reduce that buzzword ‘red tape’, allowing flexibility and . I’m often surprised at how regulated public schools can be both in Australia and around the world. While the school has accountability to the Charter Schools Board, all decisions are local and enable teachers to speak to the chief decision maker directly.
After all this, what impressed me most was how the school felt. The environment was happy, friendly and positive. It was how I wanted to see a school.
As you walk through the corridors, students work is displayed in a positive way, celebrating the project based work all students do as a class. The colours were bright and happy and there was a great deal of light in the school, brightening the experience of students.
While this is only one example of a charter school, I’m glad this one exists.
A huge thanks to the students who took me for a tour, the Principal Miss Maggie, my twitter friends and the US Embassy in Canberra who made this visit possible!
Sorry this post was rushed, blogging while travelling is more difficult than I thought!