Gathered last night at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, parents, teachers, school administrators, and community members came out to discuss charter schools and the upcoming legislative season in Annapolis. The event was hosted by the Teachers' Democracy Project (TDP), a local group that engages teachers in public policy issues and develops social justice curricula; it pitched it as an opportunity for "open, public, civil, informed discussion" about charters and their future in Maryland.
Helen Atkinson, the executive director of TDP, opened the night by telling the audience that they had planned this event five months ago, well before the lawsuits and charter funding battles that came to a head in September. Nonetheless, Atkinson said, the event would remain primarily focused on the legislative issues at stake in 2016.
Though the event was mostly respectful—save for a few heated moments—it became clear very quickly that people were more interested in expressing their feelings about charter issues in Baltimore than exploring what Hogan and his allies might be up to in a few months.
To begin the event, TDP screened a short documentary the group created called "Charters: the Illusion of Change." The film featured local community members, including Atkinson, Jessica Shiller, an urban education professor at Towson; Matt Hornbeck, a principal at Hampstead Hill Academy charter school; Kim Truehart, a longtime citizen activist; Kris Sieloff, a teacher at City Neighbors High School; and Ben Dalbey, a city schools parent. It also featured two national education policy experts: Julian Vasquez Heilig, who blogs at Cloaking Inequality, and Pedro Noguera, a professor at NYU. Both have reputations for speaking out against the education reform movement.
Overall, the film pushed themes that were fairly critical of charters, yet some speakers also said they understood why charters have proliferated and gained popularity, given the district's portfolio of underperforming schools. "But simply saying 'put more charters in' is overly simplistic," said Hornbeck in the film. "It's searching for a silver bullet, it's not a solution." Most of the speakers seemed to agree that rallying for more funding for all schools would be a better strategy than expanding choice for just some students.