During a 1954 congressional hearing, U.S. Army counsel Joseph Welch famously asked Senator Joseph McCarthy, Have you no sense of decency? The same question may be asked of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), which featured a splashy cover photo and story on its February/March magazine that celebrated the defeat of high-performing charter schools that serve low-income, mostly minority children.
Late last year, the school board in the Silicon Valley city of Morgan Hill voted against efforts by the Navigator and Rocketship charter-school organizations to establish charter schools in the district. Charter schools are independent public schools that are granted greater regulatory and personnel flexibility in exchange for greater accountability for performance. Both charter organizations appealed to the Santa Clara County Board of Education. Rocketship ended up withdrawing its appeal, while the county board eventually voted down Navigators appeal earlier this year. The CFT, which had sponsored anti-charter events in the district and helped pack board meetings with charter opponents, was ecstatic.
The union worried that the appeal of the charter schools would draw students away from the regular unionized public schools, which had been failing to improve the achievement of the Morgan Hills sizeable population of Latino students. An anti-charter petition supported by the union and posted on the leftist MoveOn.org website condemned Rocketship charter schools for employing teachers affiliated with the Teach for America (TFA) organization, which places high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals in low-income schools. The petition argued that TFA teachers had just a few weeks of teacher training, but conveniently omitted the fact that research shows that TFA instructors outperform traditionally trained teachers.
According to a 2013 study sponsored by the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, TFA teachers produced student achievement gains equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide.
The CFT magazine also criticized Rocketships use of a blended-learning model of instruction, which combines traditional classroom instruction with computer-assisted learning using interactive and adaptive educational software. Yet, the Rocketship model produces eye-opening results.
At Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary School in San Jose, nearly 90 percent of the students are Latino and 95 percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Also, two-thirds of the students are not fluent in English. Yet, despite such demographics, an amazing nine out of 10 of the charter schools fourth and fifth graders scored at or above the proficient level on the 2013 state math test. In addition, nearly three out of four fifth graders scored at or above the proficient level on the state English exam.
In contrast to the success of Rocketship charter schools, regular public schools in Morgan Hill with similar demographics do not come close to posting such impressive achievement results. For example, at Walsh Elementary School, a regular public school in Morgan Hill, 80 percent of the students are Latino and 82 percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Although the school is slightly less Latino and low-income compared to Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, less than half of Walshs fourth and fifth graders 45 percent and 44 percent scored at or above the proficient level on the state math test. Also, only half of fifth graders scored at or above the proficient level on the state English exam.
Morgan Hill CFT president Theresa Sage blames the low performance of schools like Walsh Elementary on the low-income background of students: In some schools poverty is a big issue. However, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy has raised the achievement level of its low-income students dramatically. Poverty may be a challenge, but it is not an excuse for poor school performance.
In the face of the high performance of charter schools like Rocketship, the CFT article cites one union teacher who insists that existing staff and the district are committed to carrying out the mission of public schools to provide a rich education, beyond teaching to the test. Parents, especially Latino parents, arent fooled by that argument.
Morgan Hill is failing Hispanic students, says parent Maricruz Ruiz. Speaking for herself and other Latino parents, she says, We want another option. Another parent observes that most of the families who would enroll their children in the charter schools are low income and the vast majority of them cannot vote. This part of the community, she says, is the weakest link and has no political power.
The CFT and its allies evidently see nothing wrong with doing a victory dance on the dreams and hopes of poor politically disempowered Latino parents and their children. They have no sense of decency.