I don’t have anything in particular against parents who start charter schools or parent activists who help organize others to fix struggling district schools, but the stories I read about them this weekend both seemed problematic to me in ways that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s not that there’s anything obviously wrong factually about the pieces, but still they both read “wrong” to me at a deeper, gut level:
In the New York Times, Kyle Spencer profiled Matthew Levey’s just-opened charter school in downtown Brooklyn. It was clear from the piece that journalist Spencer had spent a lot of time following Levey through the process of deciding to start a school, and there’s no shortage of twists and turns as the application and opening process unfolds. The portrait of the quirky and determined Levey is a pleasure to read, to a point.
But Levey’s own kids aren’t directly involved in the school and there’s no clear sense of significance — to the city, to parents, to policy — behind the story of Levey’s school, which left me wondering why I was reading the piece — especially since I’m an admirer of Spencer’s work.
Diverse and progressive charter schools are a fascinating topic — but Levey’s school doesn’t sound like it’s going to be particularly progressive. Parent-led schools are also fascinating, but again Levey isn’t really a parent in this context as much as he is a concerned citizen who wanted to get involved in education.
It seemed strangely untimely in 2015 to spend so much time focused on the efforts of a white college-educated male who may not in the end have much to do with the school’s success. I would have been interested in hearing more about the school bus driver’s daughter Levey hired as operations director. I would have been interested in hearing more about the other parent-founded schools.
In the Wall Street Journal, editorial writer Allysia Finley profiles Alfonso Flores, the leader of a parent trigger group that split off from Parent Revolution and now works with parent trigger legislator Gloria Romero. The interplay and tensions among the different parent trigger groups and with the districts and unions could all be fascinating, but there’s too much focus on Flores for my taste, and little or no attempt to understand the conflict from any but Flores’ perspective.
Even though the piece is written as commentary, it has enough journalistic elements that I found myself wanting to hear the other side, to get a sense of the human beings behind the efforts to prevent parents from signing petitions, or more about the rift between Parent Revolution and the new group of which Flores is a leader. Even some parent voices from the schools involved would have been welcome.