Obama Hosts Cyber Town Hall

So, in Chicago, you’ve got charter schools that are affiliated with a museum, or they’re affiliated with an arts program, and they may have a particular focus. It may be a science charter school, or it may be a language academy. They are still going to have to meet all the various requirements of a state-mandated curriculum; they’re still subject to the same rules and regulations and accountability. But they’ve got some flexibility in terms of how they design it. Oftentimes they are getting parents to participate in new ways in the school. So they become laboratories of new and creative learning.

Now, there are some charter schools that are doing a great job, and you are seeing huge increases in student performance. And by the way — one last point I want to make about these charters — they’re non-selective, so it’s not a situation where they’re just cherry-picking the kids who are already getting the highest grades; they’ve got to admit anybody. And typically there are long waiting lines, so they use some sort of lottery to admit them.

Some of them are doing great work, huge progress and great innovation; and there’s some charters that haven’t worked out so well. And just like bad — or regular schools, they need to be shut down if they’re not doing a good job. But what charters do is they give an opportunity for experimentation and then duplication of success. And we want to encourage that. So that’s the definition of charters.

In terms of teachers, how we measure performance — as I said before, I have been a critic of measuring performance just by the administering of a single high-stakes standardized test during the year, and then the teacher is judged. And that was, I think, the biggest problem with No Child Left Behind. It basically said that you just go in — (applause) — here’s the standardized test, we’ll see how the kids are doing; and because it doesn’t even measure progress, you could have a very good teacher or a very good school in a poor area where test scores have typically been low, and they are still punished even though they’re doing heroic work in a difficult situation.

The other problem is that you started seeing curriculums and teachers teaching to the test — not because they want to, but because there’s such a huge stake in doing well on these tests that suddenly the science curriculum, instead of it being designed around sparking people’s creativity and their interest in science, it ends up just being, here’s the test, here’s what you have to learn — which the average kid is already squirming enough in their seat; now they’re thinking, well, this is completely dull, this is completely uninteresting. And they get turned off from science or math or all these wonderful subjects that potentially they could be passionate about.

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