Bill Gates released an annual letter recently, some time last week, I think. Part of it dealt with his efforts at educational reform, an interest of mine. Maybe not yours; I’ll understand perfectly if you just remembered an appointment elsewhere. Anyway, I dropped off the following feedback at one of his electronic mailboxes.
Dear Mr. Gates:
I read most, admittedly not all, of your letter. I was a public school teacher for twenty years; consequently that’s where most of my attention was directed.
The work of your foundation is inarguably noble. I believe both you and your wife to be thoroughly well intentioned. However, in the field of public education, I’m concerned with the caliber of the qualitative information you may be receiving. That’s why I’m bothering to write you, knowing full well that the chance that you’ll actually read this letter is about as big as the butt of one of those mosquitos you released.
You’ll have noticed I said “qualitative information.” I’m just gonna leave the whole quantitative enchilada alone for the moment. We can discuss later exactly how good all that data and research that they’re showing you is.
Anyway, I notice that you’ve decided that charter schools might be the way to go. I won’t argue; there’s a lot to be said for charters. I notice that President Obama and his wife just visited one. Good for them. And you mention that the charter schools you’re talking about “are not selective in whom they admit.” That may be the truth. But not the whole truth.
Some schools –charters often among them– may admit large numbers of low income students, but still manage to institute a “gatekeeping” process for keeping out certain kinds of kids. They can also have pretty efficient “trapdoors” for getting rid of those same students should they inadvertently be admitted. Not every school may enjoy those advantages.
So I’m going to give you a few look-fors. The next time you’re visiting one of your sponsored schools, keep your eyes and ears peeled for any or all of the following:
1) Kids with severe physical disabilities, to include quadriplegia.
2) Kids with severe emotional disturbance, to include autism and frequent violent behavior.
3) Special needs kids, to include students with IQ’s well below 70.
4) English Language Learners, to include monolinguals (students who speak no English whatsoever).
5) Kids with discipline problems so chronic that they need to be removed from classrooms every day, or lack the self-control to attend for the full school day.
6) Kids with attendance problems, some with parents who may take them out of school on a weekly basis or even for months at a time.
Well, that should give you some idea of what to look for. If you’re seeing few or none of these, you might ask yourself a question or two. Where are these kids? What schools are they in? And what kind of effect do you think these kinds of students have on a school’s “batting average.”
Thanks for your attention.