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Make it a level playing field

ELINOR TATUM Publisher and Editor in Chief | 4/12/2012, 1:12 p.m.
The fight over education in New York is a decades-old battle. Today, the fight is...
When guidance counselors need to care

The fight over education in New York is a decades-old battle. Today, the fight is about teachers and how to evaluate them. Everyone believes that evaluation can be an effective tool to help improve teacher performance. The big question is: Why must public schools participate in the reporting process, while it is optional for charter schools?

From 2007-2010, the Department of Education undertook an initiative to provide teacher data reports for English and math teachers in fourth through eighth grades. These reports were created to show the progress teachers made in helping students in these subjects.

Reports for almost 18,000 public school teachers were completed, yet less than 150 charter school teachers had similar reports.

Most charters opted out. At best, 25 percent of the city's charter schools felt compelled to participate.

Charter schools continue to be the darling of some circles in the city. For our billionaire mayor, charters are a means to privatize the system. Under his leadership, charter schools do not seem to be scrutinized at the same level as other schools. But we must reject his thinking and ask ourselves why it is that charter schools do not have to participate in this reporting system. If charters are the answer their advocates say they are, they must be added into the mix so we can see how they are really doing.

A glaring omission from the process are the schools run by Eva Moskowitz, the Harlem Success Academies. They have not opted into the DOE's reporting system, saying that their own evaluation system is sufficient.

Some other charters have not been as arrogant; operators like KIPP and Harlem Children's Zone have opted into the program.

What is developing is a two-tiered school system in this city--the charters and the publics. Already at a disadvantage because of an executive administration that does not hold them in the highest esteem, the public schools are transparent in terms of what goes on in the classrooms with their students, teachers and administrators.

Charters, however, are allowed to hide behind a veil, where they act with autonomy, being more selective in their application and retention processes--essentially making up the rules as they go along.

I am not saying that all charter schools are bad or problematic. In fact, many are doing the right thing within the system and by the children they serve. Those are likely the schools that are not trying to avoid appropriate scrutiny within the framework of a public education system.

Today, much of the media wants to pit the publics against the charters using data that cannot paint an accurate picture. Ranking teachers only works if all teachers are included in the ranks. Until it is mandated that all schools supported with public funds are part of the reporting process, we can't compare the two.

All of our teachers must be evaluated fairly and equally. This is critically important because while charter schools may have different rules, they are still operating using public funds--our dollars are being used to support them. And in that case, we must demand the same standards and reporting processes as other publicly funded schools follow. If all public school teachers are going to be ranked, all charter school teachers must be ranked, too--let's have a level playing field.