Chafee and Charters: Thoughtful Pauses or Choir Preaching?

As Ed Fitzpatrick wrote about last week, Governor Chafee is taking a “thoughtful pause” on considering whether or not Rhode Island should allow more charter schools to open up. According to Chafee spokesman Mike Trainor, the Governor

…strongly believes Rhode Island needs a deep and healthy debate on the issue of charter schools because it represents to him a significant determinant in the future of our public school system….To help spur that healthy debate and discussion, he is going to bring Diane Ravitch to Rhode Island between now and the beginning of spring.

As Fitzpatrick explains–after noting the overwhelming support that teachers’ unions had for the Governor–Ravitch was for charter schools before she was against them and has been vociferous in both roles. He quotes Arthur E. Levine, “former president of Teachers College (where Ravitch received her doctorate)”

She has done more than any one I can think of in America to drive home the message of accountability and charters and testing. Now for her to suddenly conclude that she’s been all wrong is extraordinary — and not very helpful.

Fitzpatrick, whose own children attend charter schools, believes:

It would be helpful if Chafee resisted the temptation to view charter schools from either of the polar-opposite perspectives that Ravitch has held in her career. Charter schools are not going to solve all that ails public education, but they’re also not an enemy that is going to ruin it.

That’s not an opinion held by Ravitch 2.0. One solution to offer an opposing and articulate (and fair) counterpoint would be to invite Frederick Hess. Hess maintains a blog and, while attending an education conference in Boston, had guest bloggers fill in–and they didn’t all agree with him. In other words, Hess is willing to look at the ideas of others. Here he is in his return post:

As you’ve doubtless noted, all three of our guest bloggers are as likely to disagree with me as to reflect my own views. I hope that didn’t unduly confound anyone. For what it’s worth, I care infinitely more about whether someone is thoughtful and interesting than whether they agree with me.
This is because–and I trust this has become obvious to veteran RHSU readers–I believe it’s entirely possible for someone to be smart, informed, and concerned, and to still disagree with me on questions big and small. (I know such a stance can approach heresy, in education and elsewhere, nowadays, but there you go.)

From what I’ve read and heard of Dianne Ravitch 2.0, such willingness to engage in good faith seems to be absent.
And about that conference Hess attended….it was in Boston (TeachPlus) and Hess found some interesting (and heartening) things.

The sixty-odd teachers in attendance were bracingly open to questioning conventional verities governing teacher evaluation, job descriptions, and pay. Whereas those of us frustrated with current practice sometimes imply that most classroom teachers are set on holding fast to today’s routines, that clearly wasn’t the case with this crew.
Teach Plus used instant polling technology to anonymously gauge attitudes as we went along, and I found the results cheerfully suggestive that a huge swath of today’s early career teachers are ready to rethink the shape of the profession. Nearly three-quarters of the attendees had taught three to ten years, and most of the rest were in their first two years. About a third, I think, were in charter schools–but a clear majority were in the Boston Public Schools.
Asked whether they’d be “willing to be held more accountable for student outcomes in exchange for access to differentiated roles and additional pay,” 63% of this group said yes and just 11% said no. Asked how they’d prefer to be evaluated, to my surprise, the room as a whole preferred evaluation based on “measures of student learning growth” as opposed to measures based on peer observation or participation in school-wide improvement. Indeed, when asked how useful their most recent evaluation was in improving their teaching, there was no defensiveness and no apologies. Forty-four percent said “not at all useful” and just 18% said “very useful.” Mostly, it was refreshing to see teachers comfortable sharing views that don’t comply with the stereotypical expectation.
These teachers and I talked about specialization, rethinking the teaching job, getting smart about using technology, reassessing the assumption that all teachers need to be full-timers, and the rest. I don’t expect anyone to just swallow my heterodox take on these questions, and these teachers sure didn’t. But most seemed eager to consider alternative arrangements, think them through, and share their own spirited and savvy insights.

Governor, invite Hess.

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