Letter: Detroit students need funding, not charter hype

The Detroit News

Charter backers are unhappy that Democratic presidential candidates have come out in favor of regulating charter schools and limiting their growth. For decades, many Democrats have been sympathetic to and have received support from charter backers. However, the wave of teacher strikes over the past 18 months has shifted the national narrative on charters.

Many charter advocates defend charters by focusing on test scores ("Detroit charter school successes will go unsung in debates," July 31). It is true that Detroit charter schools have outperformed traditional public schools on both Michigan’s M-STEP test as well as the SAT. Of course they do — they have the benefit of a self-selected and sometimes hand-selected cohort of students.

FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2015 file photo, public school buses are parked in Springfield, Ill.

Gordon Lafer of the University of Oregon, who conducted an extensive study of charter schools, explains: “Charters sort and subdivide the student population ... While charter schools are required by law to accept any student who applies, in reality, they exercise recruitment, admission, and expulsion policies that often screen out the students who would be the neediest and most expensive to serve — who then turn to district schools.”

University of Colorado education professor Kevin Welner identified a dozen methods charters use to get the students they want — and avoid or discard the ones they don’t.

One method Welner identified is that charters push parents of struggling students to remove their children from school. Repeated meetings between parents, administrators and teachers are often enough for parents to get the hint. If not, explaining that if the student stays, he will be retained in grade, or will have to go elsewhere to graduate on time, is even more effective. The harsh discipline policies many charters employ also help in this sifting process.

The biggest challenge Detroit’s schools face is the poverty that afflicts nearly half of all Detroit children.

The second biggest challenge is the lack of proper funding. Schools are understaffed, leaving teachers and other personnel stretched too thin to do our jobs the way we could and should.

The solution is small class sizes and sufficient support staff, so teachers have the time and resources to meet students’ needs, both collectively and individually. We need schools where students can access counselors and specialists, and where the school’s staff actually has time to help and bond with students.

As a teacher, I know that giving a student one reason to come to class and participate is worth five potential negative consequences for not doing so.

Teachers unions and presidential candidates are correct in emphasizing the funding problem. There are no education miracles, and we don’t need any. What students and teachers need is the opportunity to succeed — an opportunity well-funded public schools could provide.

Glenn Sacks, co-chair 

United Teachers Los Angeles, James Monroe High School 

Los Angeles Unified School District