Last year, I worked at a charter school; it was also my first year teaching. The learning curve was steep, the hours were long, but I would say I left with an understanding of what it means to teach. While the way I taught, and the way I was taught to teach, fit a prescribed mode of interacting with content and managing students, it was one way of teaching I mastered. The “Teach Like a Champion” management style was coupled with a skills-based, mastery-driven, data-centric mode of teaching content.
I believe there’s a resounding understanding that serving as a teacher at this moment is no easy existence; it’s particularly tumultuous in the space of Nashville. I have friends who teach at traditionally low-performing, low-income schools. An equally large contingent of friends teach at no-excuse charter school. The population of students in Metro Nashville Public Schools is a direct result of integration and the change of the educational landscape after more prosperous families relocated to the suburban communities just outside of district boundaries or enrolled in a litany of the private schools in Nashville. So what’s the solution to the racial, economic, and opportunity gap for the students in MNPS? It feels like Nashville is saying it is the no-excuse charter movement.
I do believe the original intention of the “charter movement” was grounded in the laboratory school model that John Dewey first outlined in Experience and Education. Policymakers carved out the space for experiments in public education. This was intended to allow schools that offered alternative curricula, longer school days, experiential education, etc., with each school implementing different teaching and management pedagogies. In Nashville at least, there is one iteration of charter school that has propagated the city: the no excuse model. This is in part due to the political landscape (namely Mayor Dean) who has been an ardent supporter of charters. Additionally, the Building Excellent Schools program also has a number of individuals who have started schools in Nashville. There are also myriad private donors and corporate sponsorships that have funneled money into the charter schools.
This article, published on January 17 by Salon, is a telling narrative of what it feels like to be an educator in Nashville and where it feels the city is headed in the sphere of public education. While it’s an extensive look at the schools here, it’s a telling picture of what is happening this year with charter school takeovers, which opens a whole new branch of the schooling controversy.