Education is a hot topic in the US. Nearly everyone has an educational experience, and nearly as many people are parents of students or engage with students on a regular basis. It is thus natural that many people have voiced their perspectives on what constitutes a quality education, how to achieve one, and what barriers exist for part of the population. Often times these experiences are viewed as singular encounters with schools and students, however, scholars have helped us to better understand the larger systemic picture.
In addition to his role as a professor of educational policy and law at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, Dr. Kendall Deas is a co-director of the Quality Education Project in Charleston County. He studies educational models (e.g. charter school and public school models) and promotes access to quality public education to all students, regardless of race.
Dr. Deas's professional experiences span the public, private, and non-profit sectors working as a senior research analyst in urban and regional planning with Huntley Partners, Inc. in Atlanta, GA, a project associate in regional economic development with Partnership Gwinnett in association with the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce in Duluth, GA, and a research assistant for The Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress.
Recently, we interviewed Dr. Deas to learn more about his research.
With the current move towards privatization, how do you think that impacts teacher education?
Teachers are able to go into charter systems without being fully certified because there are shortcuts to credentials. That really concerns me in terms of teacher quality.
Additionally, charter models generally lack two things: transparency and parental involvement. The biggest complaint from parents in the Charleston community is that they don’t feel that they have much say in the governance and direction of the school.
In public schools, there is more possibility for a more transparent and participatory decision-making process. In charter models, there are schools that privately-controlled and are not beholden to involve stakeholders outside of the organization. My chief concern in all of this is that charter schools sift money away from public schools.
Why do you think there has been resistance towards creating long-term, sustainable reform in public school models?
People have written off the traditional public model. They think that any money that has been used in the traditional public model has not been used efficiently or effectively. Privatization seems to offer more efficiency and control over funding, which leads many to believe in greater educational results. But efficiency does not necessarily produce a better educational experience for students. “Efficiency” can mean shutting out parents from the decision-making process and increased students of color being disciplined at higher percentages.
Do you think the charter school model is conducive towards producing quality education?
There are improvements in some charter schools, but that could be easily reproducible in public school models as well. A couple of examples include smaller class sizes and the presence of teacher aides and other paraprofessionals.
Many of the successes that you see in the charter model can be achieved in the public model of you have the adequate investment. It doesn’t matter as much whether it’s a charter model or a public model, as long as the school system is putting the emphasis on supporting teacher training and development.
What recommendations do you have for moving forward?
We need to look beyond students’ test scores to assess a teacher’s impact on student education, which has an impact on teacher evaluation. We have to consider things such as curriculum development and teacher observations and reports, in tandem with test scores. It’s important to recognize and to place limitations on how much of a conclusion one can draw from student test scores.
Overall, we need a philosophical shift from what we consider “achievement”; we need broader measures of student achievement, and as a result of that, broader measures of teacher effectiveness.
These performance assessments have significant consequences for teachers and students. What we’re seeing is lower-performing public school are being shut down and students are being sent to other schools in different parts of the city.
Are the students receiving a better educational experience at these higher-performing schools?
On paper, yes, these scores are considered higher quality. But the issue is that some of these students are coming into these schools underprepared in comparison to their peers who have grown up in these neighborhoods. The challenge is in getting these students to perform up-to-par with their peers in these new schools. The majority of these schools that are being closed down are community schools -- schools in neighborhoods with high minority populations. This practice of uprooting students from their communities and bussing them across the city to a new school, which in some cases takes up to 3 hours, has not been conducive towards improving the educational experience for these students, even though they are technically attending a better school.
What are some key points you’d like for us to take away?
Teacher quality and effectiveness is so important when it comes to student achievement. We need to implement policies that would improve the quality of teachers, teacher supervision, and teacher evaluation. We need to invest in public schools and monitor that funding is being used efficiently and effectively. Finally, we can learn some things from charter school practices; smaller class sizes and teacher aides and other paraprofessionals are good for students’ education. We should be adopting these effective charter school practices into public schools.