Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Montessori charter school in Iowa City?

One of my readers has been keeping me apprised of the progress of a bill in the Iowa legislature that would make it possible to create a Montessori-style charter school here in Iowa City. (Iowa’s current charter school laws are apparently very restrictive, with the result that there are only seven charter schools in the entire state.) I’m afraid I have failed this reader by not becoming more informed about the specifics of the bill. I blame that on my general lack of enthusiasm for the concept of charter schools, which, under the No Child Left Behind Act, rise and fall on their standardized test scores just as much as regular schools do. (On that topic, see this post.) Nonetheless, I thought I should at least post a link to other, more informative sources about this bill.

I agree that if the people of Iowa City would like to offer at least one elementary school that operates on the Montessori school model, there’s no justification for state and federal laws that would prevent that from happening. But the bill itself apparently contains some provisions -- for example, one that would exempt charter schools from the state’s collective bargaining laws, and one that would remove them from the jurisdiction of the local school board -- that would sure give me pause. With the right amendments, though, I could see how such a bill would give people at least a little more choice than they currently have.

More information appears here and here. Beyond that, I leave it to commenters who know more than I do.


FedUpMom said...

Chris, I have to tell you, the Montessori pre-school my daughters attended is the only school we NEVER had a problem with.

If the charter Montessori school becomes a reality, and it does a decent job of implementing Montessori techniques, you should look into it for your kids.

I'd be thrilled to have a charter Montessori school in our district.

Tony Gates said...

Thanks for this important post...
nice work for Montessori school students ...
Montessori Nursery School

KD said...

Where would such a school be located...I would hope it would be in a central location in the district?

So the charter school would basically take over an existing school in the district?

How would the district get input from community members about whether the district should go forward with such a plan?

Anyone know more?

Karen W said...

Charter school applications are due October 1st. We aren't far enough along in the application process to have a proposed location yet but it seems likely that the proposal will be to share space rather than take over an entire existing school.

Chris said...

Karen W -- Thanks for posting! Is the application going to go forward no matter what happens with the bill?

Chris said...

Karen W -- Also, is there any good online source for people to keep up with developments on this issue (besides just waiting for further articles to appear on the local papers' websites)?

Chris said...

FedUpMom -- I like what I know about Montessori schools, and I'm in total sympathy with parents who want to have an option like that within the public system.

Still, I'm finding it hard not to feel skeptical about the prospect. It's not the "Montessori" part that worries me, it's the "charter" part. I'm not sure I want to see what a Montessori school that's required to raise standardized test scores looks like.

It seems to me that the two most likely outcomes are: (1) a test-driven school that's not faithful to the Montessori model, or (2) a Montessori school that ultimately gets designated a failing school because of its disregard for test scores.

So, even though I like the Montessori model, would I pull my kids out of their existing school, which they can walk to, and where all their social relationships are, and send them to a different school, possibly far from our neighborhood, with uncertain long-term or even mid-term prospects? I doubt it. Maybe if my kids hadn't started school already, I'd be more open to the idea.

I suppose I'm also afraid that, from the bureaucracy's point of view, a charter school is just a way to placate dissatisfied parents without addressing the broader problems that affect all the schools. "You want a humane, engaging, child-centered environment for your kids? One of our schools is like that!" Then they can act like the remaining schools reflect the values of the broad majority of parents -- even though parents have no meaningful say in what goes on in them.

But I certainly don't blame the parents who are trying to make the Montessori charter happen. I just can't work up much excitement for the idea myself, given what I've seen of the school system.

Maybe I just has a grumpy.

Karen W said...

We are going to keep working on the application even though the bill appears dead for now. I hope we will be ready to start a website soon.

I share your concerns about likely outcomes but I still hope we can convince our legislators to work with us to fix the charter school law.

Chris said...

A reader points out this lengthy article on Iowa’s new Department of Education Director. It amazes me that anyone could write an article that long about a state education director without ever mentioning standardized tests or No Child Left Behind, but there you go.

Glass’s blog is here. It contains a lot of talk about how teachers are great and public education is important, but they’re all going to have to change -- with few if any specifics about how they will have to change, or, for that matter, why. (Glass does, however, criticize “educational reform’s naysayers” for not offering specifics.) Perhaps I will post some comments . . .

FedUpMom said...

Chris, NCLB is designed so that every public school in the country will be designated "failing" by 2014. Your neighborhood school has the same probability of failing as a possible Montessori charter -- 100%.

So I wouldn't worry too much about NCLB "failure". By 2014, either NCLB will (finally!) have been thrown out, or every school will fail.

On the other hand, if your kids are reasonably happy where they are, I understand your reluctance to switch schools.

Chris said...

True enough! Yet that doesn't seem to stop the district from making things worse in an effort to stave off the failure . . .

Chris said...

More articles of interest, passed along by readers:

Parents hope for alternative charter school

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to Keynote Iowa Education Summit

Three speakers added for Iowa education summit

One of these speakers scheduled for "Iowa's education summit" (good luck finding a summit in Iowa) was apparently Mitt Romney's Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts. More info on him here:

David P. Driscoll, EdD

Honorable David P. Driscoll