All schools, including charter schools, must do a better job teaching our children, stated Marquette University Professor Howard Fuller recently at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Fuller, a founding member of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent, and current board chair at a Milwaukee charter school, was the featured keynote speaker at the second annual Minnesota Charter School Conference July 29 at McNamara Center.
“It is our responsibility to love them, nurture them, care for them, and make sure every one of them is educated,” said Fuller. He added that schools must serve all children regardless of learning style, and teachers should use an “asset approach rather than [a] deficit approach” in teaching them, which would include respecting them for what they can do, he pointed out. “We have to be real for our kids at every level.”
He says if a teacher doesn’t like kids, they should leave the profession: “We’ve got some [teachers] in our movement who are in this…for economic reasons,” continued Fuller. “There are some things you can’t in-service. Some are just terrible teachers,” he said, then asked the audience, “Are the schools we are creating preparing our children to compete with the most competitive children in this country and throughout the world? Are we preparing kids to be excellent in the 20th Century but we are [now] in the 21st Century?”
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Fuller also noted that the achievement gap really is a “test score gap,” adding that test scores “can’t be the only measure” for a student’s academic success. “If it is only about test scores, we are missing the point,” he said. “In order to be fair to our children, we have to use the chartering process to create schools…in ways that will help kids attain a level of academic achievement and mental toughness that they will need to be able to engage in the transformation of their world.”
Afterwards, Fuller spoke to the MSR and further explained the chartering process that he earlier referred to in his remarks. “What I am saying is that it is the process that allows for public schools to be creative in ways that are different from the traditional model,” he pointed out.
“The types of innovation that people are doing in schools, you can do that in the traditional [public school] — you don’t have to be a charter school to do that. It’s the process of chartering that is the innovation. It’s not the individual school that is the innovation.”
If a charter school is not working, then close it, said Fuller. “If a charter school closes because it is not meeting whatever the agreed-upon benchmark, that to me is not a negative but a positive. I’m still struggling with school closures, but that’s a struggle that I think we have to face up to, because some of these schools need to be closed. They should not be allowed to continue — traditional schools as well as charters — because they are not serving the kids.
“America is hypocritical when it comes to choice,” said Fuller. “If you got money,” there are choices. “If this is not working for your kids, you can move to communities where they have really good schools,” he noted. “You can put your kids in private schools or you can get the best tutoring service you can find, or you can do all three.
“But if you are low-income…you’re shut out from [the private school sector] altogether simply because you don’t have the resources. I want to have governance and financial structure that gives low-income and working-class people access and be able to choose the best option that would work for their kids.”
Change is always needed in education, said Fuller. “We are all for change so long as nothing changes. Change is not a discussion” but should be making something happen. “Public education is an idea but not a delivery system.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.