1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mimicry: A Pitfall for Charters

One danger charter schools face is simply replicating the failing public school model but doing so on much smaller scale. I believe this happens when the school asks, "What does the district (and/or state) tell us we must do?" (things such as high school graduation requirements, discipline policies, reporting requirements, etc.) before the school has firmly in view its own vision of curriculum and school culture.

In other words, it is important to know what kind of school one has in mind and what it will take to organize and implement such a school. Then one asks, "Now, how do we meet the state/district requirements?" Otherwise, the central intuition (why we are starting the school in the first place) gets subordinated or simply "tacked on" to a bureaucratic school model.

For example, if our school is in a district that requires three credits (three years) of Social Studies, the easiest thing to do might be to have six courses available that have the same course titles as Mainstream High: World History 1 & 2; American History 1, 2 & 3; American Government. Might not it be more interesting to ask, "What should our students know about history?" first? Once this question is answered we can proceed to formulate courses or seminars. We might end up with a course such as the History of Science which offers 1/2 Science credit, 1/2 World History credit, and 1/2 English Composition credit. Such a course would be more demanding than 3 compartmentalized Science, Social Studies and English courses, but it also might be more interesting and useful for our students. Then we say, "Okay, how do convince the district/state that our courses meet or exceed their requirements?"

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