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Analyzing Charter Trends

A higher rate of college acceptance. Higher average GPAs. Better student morale. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, it is.

Charter schools have come into popularity in recent years as general education campuses have been losing funding, therefore losing programs, followed by loss of popularity with the community. Federal budgeting for education is “discretionary,” not mandatory, making it often less than priority.

Education accounts for 6.28% of 29.34% of the total budget of the US.

By far, the biggest category of discretionary spending is spending on the Pentagon and related military programs. Examples of other well-known programs paid for by discretionary spending include the early childhood education program Head Start (included in Housing & Community), Title I grants to disadvantaged schools and Pell grants for low-income college students (Education), food assistance for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), training and placement for unemployed people provided by Workforce Investment Boards (in Social Security, Unemployment and Labor), and scientific research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF), among many others.

By comparison, Germany’s Department of Education and Research accounts for 29.77% of overall federal spending.

But money aside, the actual function of a charter school seems to confuse many people. Firstly, charter schools are not inherently ‘better.’ The ‘betterness’ of a school is much in the eye of the beholder. Charter schools invite private groups of community members, often businesses or like organizations, to commit to opening a campus to fill gaps left by the public campuses. This means that politically charged groups can come in, set up shop in their own design, and teach the way they want to whom they choose, because they have been made a necessity. Instead of districts filling their own gaps for the betterment of all students, they facilitate the cliquing of a demographic of students away from the rest of the community population that is then left to deal with the gaps in the original schools. Unless all cities and all districts become almost entirely filled with charter schools for every demographic, public schools will continue to become weaker and weaker as money is funneled away from general education and into charter education. This means isolating groups of students. This means legalized segregation by mindset. This means students are isolated from differing opinions, only being exposed to a limited dogma, rather than multiple, and having the opportunity to develop their own opinions.

My take: Parents who are frightened by the idea that their child may have to form their own opinions are why homeschooling and charter education exist, and this sheltering of children is why the Millenial and Gen Z stereotyping of the “special snowflake” exist. And yet, somehow, it’s the Baby Boomers and Gen X begging for charter and private education? Fun fact: You can’t simultaneously create and degrade a population the same way you can’t simultaneously call today’s youth lazy and reckless. We’re either doing something or nothing, but it can’t be both, guys. Decide which is worse: Youth expressing their opinions and developing societal patterns that Older Generations may find unsavory, or staying out of it and following existing tides like drones. Unique or Drones? Unique or Drones? For a generation so afraid that kids aren’t being taught the ‘right’ history, you seem rather anxious to give kids a much narrower scope of history.  Every year, my grandparents inspect my public school textbooks to make sure they agree with what and how I’m being taught. My neutral and non-political textbook never satisfies them. An American history teacher in my district stood at the front of the room lecturing that all Civil Rights supporters were unamerican terrorists, and they stand in support of filling whole buildings with teachers as politically charged as she, in supporting the Charter system replacing general education. My neutral public education dissatisfies them, they criticize that my public education is too ‘left’ and is ‘filling today’s youth’s heads with propaganda and (ew) fake news. Pick one, Grandma, is a Charter school teaching only ‘left’ or ‘right’ history better or worse than a public school where one teacher may be preaching over the neutral books? Make up your mind, do you want Charter schools that can legally decide to only teach their side of history to exist, even if it means that some aren’t teaching your side? One cannot exist without the other. Accept that Charter schools are polarized, and won’t always be in your favor, or don’t support any Charter schools at all. If you want to give your kids one dogma, pay to send them to private school (also, don’t have kids. That’s cruelty.)

Every generation has stood for something. Let the Millenial and Gen Z generation stand for the betterment of our society through education. The first thing to happen in toxic or dictated societies is the limiting of education. Knowledge is quite literally power, and only those who have something to hide are afraid of educating those they are hiding from. The first step to a healthy society is Free and Appropriate Public Education, which means fair, accessible, prioritized education. A society that can debate, agree and disagree, then move on peacefully is a healthy society. As America stands, very few are doing the talking, because very few know how. For too long, the separation between federal and self has existed. This separation has made for a system far too convoluted for many to understand, let alone challenge. We have the right to petition, but who knows how to begin? We have the right to speak, but who has that pen that’s supposedly mightier than the sword to do so?

Americans have the right to Charter, we have the right to Private, we have the right to Home education. But we also have the right to the FAPE, and that means keeping our general public schools funded and functioning, not suffering under the weight of the specialized Charter schools. Agreed?

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SHIPS: Student Health Initiative in Public Schools

While health does not equate to success, a healthy student is more likely to succeed. Why? They are not simultaneously tackling the world and their own body. If the body will not work for the student, the mind is unable to perform at capacity.

School is hard enough without having health concerns that can disrupt a whole day in a matter of seconds. Students with chronic illnesses, disabilities, compromised immune systems, mental health concerns, and any body issue that will infringe on their success are at a major disadvantage in the current American Public Education System (APES.)

The APES is built for students who will do their very best and no less, and sometimes even their best is not enough. The APES is built to disguise its failures as those of its students, which is shameful and needlessly unamerican. A system so expansive is bound to have faults, but certainly not a tear as massive as this, the disregarding of a major population of people. To discredit a population because it is a minority is not only illegal but plain rude. Yes, “Alternative Centers” exist, but they shouldn’t have to.

What is the cost comparison of opening an entirely separate campus for ‘different’ students as opposed to training a more effective staff on one campus, and not segregating by health condition? My own district spends more than six million dollars on staff development, the metro we border spends more than fifteen million. How difficult would it be to include a little Teaching a Diverse Student training in there? How difficult is it to learn to teach a Spoonie?

Public general education school campuses need to beef up their comprehensive training before falling victim to recession and budget cuts once families discover that private, magnet, and charter education opportunities will better suit the needs of their diverse student. Humans are diverse, so education should be too. No amount of affordable legal taxation will make up for funding cuts as public campuses continue to fail.

While charter and magnet campuses already have much more to offer a student body that is ready for better-suited education than a PS can offer, public schools should not suffer in the wake of the societal change. Education is power, and if power is not acquirable in our general education schools, then we have failed as a nation. Requiring families to choose their homes based on what companies are running the schools in the area, what ideas the local campus is teaching, what kind of funding is going into what kind of curriculum, is cruelly unrealistic for low-income families who make their decisions in very different ways than upper-middle-class Americans who can afford to puddle hop when they aren’t completely satisfied.

A proposal:

Improve the schools we have, work harder to create an environment of accessible success, instead of leaving the ‘lesser’ to the wolves and privatizing education. Yes, charter schools are public, but the teachers and staff are handpicked to cater to very specific needs and demographics. The idea that the campus will ‘reflect the desires of the community’ insinuates that the entire community shares a desire. This type of thinking polarizes education, creating environments of sheltering similar to toxic forms of homeschool. Parents begin sending their children to the Charter of Choice that supports their political and social ideas of rightness for their child, removing the diversity of a public education, spitting out not model citizens, but modeled citizens.

How to improve the schools we have:

  • Teach the Teachers how to make small classroom accommodations that benefit diverse learners, especially as those with physical and mental health concerns.
  • Encourage networking between in- and out-of- district campuses to strategize ways to better accommodate diverse learners, and boost awareness of the different types of teaching and learning that can exist.
  • Offer various administrations of courses, such as online or small-group. If money exists to open an Alternative Education Center with its own building costs and staffing fees and maintenance requirements, then money exists to have additional staff on existing campuses utilizing existing space and resource technology such as labs and libraries to provide “class” in different forms.
  • Create campus health programs that inform nursing and caregiving staff about the wide spectrum of physical and mental health conditions affecting students beyond the general scope of ‘common.’ Offer staff opportunities to learn about these conditions and understand their true meanings.
  • Create voluntary club organizations for students with conditions that require accommodations of any kind. Knowing they’re not alone is a powerful part of feeling safe and accounted for in public schools.
  • Make sure administrators in the Section 504/IDEA/SpEd departments are informed about the vast variety of conditions affecting students and are willing to push for accommodating those students. In my own experience, I have had campus authorities not ‘believe’ in my condition, and therefore refuse to accommodate, even with explicit notice from medical professionals responsible for my care. A letter stating I struggle with overly stimulating environments that doesn’t specifically state that I will need to be allowed to enter less stimulating environments at any time is disregarded, despite the fact that any competent person understands the implication of the necessity of access.
  • Have accessible spaces available. An empty counselor’s office (with a trusty adult nearby,) a library supply closet turned into a (one-at-a-time, pass accessible) quiet room, a standing pass for the nurse to take an emergency nap, any of these can turn a Big Scary School into a safer place quite easily.
  • Do not assume that students that struggle with over stimulation are weak or exaggerating, the response to stimuli is out of the person’s control. Do not assume that a student with a hearing aid can simply ‘turn off’ their auditory receptors. Do not assume that a student that medicates at certain times of the day will always remember, or that forgetting means they don’t really need their medication, or that forgetting means they don’t care. Do not assume anything about a student’s condition, at any time, for any reason.
  • Expect challenges.

 

Let’s get to work.

#MakeEducationAccessibleAgain

The Beginning

It starts here, a “run” for the Presidential Cabinet. It starts with stories and sharing and polls and gathering as much information and support as possible. Education is the foundation of society, and I am dedicated to growing the safest, healthiest, society possible. That means having a Ready, Willing, and Able education system that can cater to the diversity of the American Landscape.

This is it, folks. I’m VL Gaffney, and I want to be your Secretary of Education.

A Standard of Excellence

The beginning of a great education system is having great curriculum. Diverse, masterful, enticing, orderly and sound, flexible and modern, thorough and in-reach. Across the US, schools are trying to teach essentially the same things, but are teaching in very different ways with varying results. To create a Standard curriculum (In Texas, this is called the TEKS) that will provide a baseline expectation will allow for a more effective and functioning education system. It is, after all, a system. A network, a web, a collaborative effort spanning thousands of miles. We have the technology, now is the time.

Please leave comments and feedback detailing your Top Three, the three things you would implement or change about curriculum and how it is taught in your city or region.

Public Education As I Knew It

I was a rockstar in my freshman year of high school. I knew my teachers well, I made excellent grades, performed in the spring musical that went on to win several awards, and was even nominated for my school’s pride award. My friends were stable and loyal and together we were positive influences on each other and were bound to grow into amazing people.

In autumn of my sophomore year, I got sick. I thought it was some minor thing, that I’d miss a day, two max. But it was three. And four. And five. And I kept counting day after day of pain I couldn’t explain and exhaustion like I’d never felt it before, dizziness and fatigue off of my scale. Wednesday of the second week, I took my first trip to the doctor’s office, where I was tested for the basics, and told it was just GI difficulty and told to drink water. The pain did not stop. The next Monday, we went back to the doctor, I was tested again, and shown positive for Mononucleosis. I wanted to laugh. The Kissing Disease? I got Mono and it did this to me? I was sure she must have been kidding, until I went home that night to do some reading.

Mononucleosis, blood infection, virus. Herpes Family, Human Herpes Virus 4 (HHV4) also known as Glandular Fever, or Epstein-Barr Virus. Some link-following revealed that HHV4 has been known to trigger secondary or primary-dormant conditions in its host.

But I went to school on Wednesday. I had a test. My principal greeted me in the hallway before first period, and told me that whenever I was ready, I could go check in to the nurse’s station, and stay there all day. I said hello to all of my teachers and explained what was going on, and in third period, I was whiped out and needed a rest. I was done with my classwork, so it was time to take up the Principal on his offer. Only, he hadn’t been in contact with the nurses, he was just waiting for them to call when I was there. But when I was there, he was in a meeting. So they took my temperature, normal. My Blood Oxygenation, good enough. My blood pressure, fine. I was sweating through my clothes, crying, dizzy, and they said these things to me, in this order:

This is a place of safety and privacy, and you are disrupting the privacy of students who have come here to rest.

This is a public place, and you are embarrassing yourself. You need to go to the bathroom to calm down.

If you were sick, we’d be able to tell. You’re fine, you’re just sweaty and having a tantrum.

We don’t send people home for stomach aches.

If you were really sick, you’d be at home.

No, we won’t call Mr. Garcia, he’s in a meeting. We aren’t going to disturb him just so you can ditch your last period (theater, my favorite class.)

They sent me back to third period. There, I was met by friends and a substitute teacher who offered me the ice from her empty lunch cup to press against my neck. I laid on the floor with a girl who was having a cataract surgery soon. She held my hand, and told me it would be okay. I managed to stop crying, and went to theater. I stayed all day, and never went back.

The next Friday, I was in the ER, and was not planning on returning to school. In late October, I hadn’t had any real communication with my campus in weeks, and my counselor called to set us up for a Section 504 plan. They said it would help me get my work, they said I wouldn’t be marked absent for every day, they said I’d have permission to access campus resources whenever I needed them but wasn’t required to be on-campus as my peers were.

This was all a lie, of course, whether a deliberate one or not. A Section 504 plan will not alleviate the stress and struggle on its own. “What you really need is Homebound,” and “It sounds like you should be in SpEd,” and “Sorry, we would never say you didn’t have to come to school to do your work, there’s actually a law against that…” Filled the air and choked my mother and me. We didn’t know what to do, and the only people who knew anything about the system that we needed help through were legally obligated to enforce and encourage standard attendance and classroom process. There would be no accommodation made to allow me to work in the best way for me, on my own, without having to follow the schedule of anyone from any campus.

And yet, there I was at the end of the school year, in a Homebound arrangement. For four hours a week, the school’s AVID teacher came to the house to give me assignments and take back whatever I had completed. Here’s the catch: I was doing the same work in the same timeframe as my classmates, minus any and all classroom instruction, and if w did my hours on Monday and Tuesday, a project was assigned on Wednesday that would be due the next Monday, I was guaranteed to be turning it in late, and falling behind the class, that I was expected to rejoin when I “healed.”

Except I didn’t heal.

December: I see a GI Specialist who encourages us to enroll in a program called CAPP at Dell Children’s.

February: CAPP begins with weekly appointments of Talk Therapy in the GI clinic, and I begin Physical Therapy at the Outpatient Rehab Center of Dell Children’s.

March: My Physical Therapist notices some irregularities in my joints and muscles, and thinks I may have a pair of disabilities called Dysautonomia and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

April: I am diagnosed with Dysautonomia by a cardiologist. The EDS is proven to be genetic-hereditary.

May: The counselors at school think that because I’m diagnosed that that means I’ll be coming back to school. In what world does finding out I’m disabled equate to coming back to school?

Some of my teachers worked with me. I got my English and History credits, but not Algebra or Chemistry. I moved up in Theater and Newspaper, but my Creative Writing teacher withheld my grades until it was “too late,” and my Spanish teacher did the exact opposite of help, which was drop a manilla folder of all of the work of the year on my desk on the Wednesday before the Friday cut-off for grades and work submission. That summer I got a job and immersed myself in the PT of hard work in a camp kitchen, and only missed two days out of eight weeks.

When school started again, I was more excited than I could have said. I had missed a whole year of my life, I was disabled and in ongoing pain that had become the norm, but I wanted nothing more than to get back into the swing of things. It didn’t work. Three weeks in, I was out. And everyone who knew me was shaking their head, saying “How can you work all summer in a hot kitchen for more than ten hours a day, but you can’t sit in a desk and listen for ninety minutes at a time?”

Let’s explain this.

Summer: Small group in a small space, tasks are the same every day, I can pause when and where I need to, I know everyone around me is watching out for me, the environment is stable and the work is easy, except for loading the dishwasher. Anxiety is minimal, depression is avoidable, nothing has significant weight or importance, as all things are short-term. I have time to look out for symptoms and signs that I may be about to have an episode.

School: Large groups that change multiple times a day, before and after a mad frenzy of a passing period in which a few thousand kids flood narrow hallways and make so much noise I can’t hear myself breathe. The tasks are different every hour, every day, and have a long-term importance beyond “lunch.” Most of the people around me “don’t believe” in my disabilities, and therefore are not looking out for signs I may not be aware of that I’m about to have an episode. I have several superiors who all think they were “right all along” about me being able to come back to school. Anxiety is through the roof. Depression is in the air. I have no time or energy to give to myself to watch out for warnings.

In the late fall and early winter, I began an Education Accessibility project called Camp Oak Hallows, and determined my Girl Scout Gold Award project, How To Teach a Spoonie. I knew what I had to do, and I wasn’t just doing it for me, I was doing it for every kid I shared that crowded campus with under the eyes of unempathetic administration, and teachers who would care, if they were paid enough or had the time. Public school had a whole new meaning to me, and it was bitter on my tongue to think that the system I was raised in, excelled in, thrived in, was suddenly unsafe, unforgiving, out of my reach.

I’m sitting here today, a future innovator of American Education.

Dear Future Presidents, I’m VL Gaffney, and I want to be your Secretary of Education.