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OP-ED | The Future of Our Children Is In Legislative Hands

by Jennifer Alexander | Apr 10, 2014 8:51am
(11) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Opinion

Last week, the State Board of Education took a stand for Connecticut’s children and approved four new public charter schools. As a result of that historic decision, thousands of children will have access to the high-quality education they deserve.

The new schools will be located in Bridgeport, Stamford and New Haven. Each school will be led by educators, based on instructional models with proven track records. These are schools from which close to 100 percent of students graduate, schools where no child is denied the chance for a great education simply because they can’t afford one.

That is real and long overdue progress. Now, we must protect this progress and continue to take steps to ensure that all kids get the education they need to achieve their goals.

Two of these schools—New Haven’s Booker T. Washington Academy and Bridgeport’s Great Oaks School – are scheduled to open this fall. The funding for these two schools is included in the state’s biennial budget approved by legislators last year. State leaders must preserve that funding, so that the hundreds of students hoping to attend Booker T. Washington Academy and Great Oaks School have the opportunity they have been waiting for.

The state Board of Education also approved two schools set to open in the fall of 2015—Bridgeport’s Capital Prep Harbor School and the Stamford Charter School for Excellence. We look to state leaders next year to ensure that these successful school models become a reality for students and families. 

The state board’s decision has raised concerns about funding for both public charter and traditional public schools, suggesting that we must either fairly fund schools based on student need or invest in creating new schools. The fact is, these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Both are critical and must be part of a larger conversation about our state’s fundamentally broken school funding system that is not serving our children well.

In the process, we must stay focused on improving results for kids. These four schools are a critical part of our state’s efforts to improve outcomes for all students and build a brighter future for Connecticut.

These schools represent real progress for the thousands of kids in Connecticut who are aren’t getting a fair chance at the education they need to go to college, to get decent jobs, or to build thriving communities. In Stamford, large achievement gaps persist and about half of all low-income students are below “goal” or grade-level in reading, writing, math and science. In Bridgeport and New Haven, one out of three kids won’t graduate high school. Only half of the Latino and African American 3rd graders in those cities are reading at grade level. When they reach 10th grade, that number drops to less than four in 10.

To be clear, there has been some progress in these cities — particularly in New Haven and Stamford. That progress must continue. In fact, the current pace and scale of that progress for kids must be accelerated.  The bottom line is that thousands of kids are not yet being prepared for the bright futures they deserve. Over 4,000 families are currently waiting for access to better options. The supply of quality options does not meet demand.

In approving these schools, the state Board of Education clearly recognized that kids can’t wait — they need better schools now. We turn to state legislators, with a mid-term budget before them and a biennial budget right around the corner, to decide whether our kids get the education they deserve or are kept waiting.

Jennifer Alexander is the CEO of ConnCAN (Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now).

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(11) Comments

posted by: redlady | April 10, 2014  9:37am

We need choice in schools, and most parents will agree with that.  What we don’t need is the acceptance that Government has the future of our children in their hands….the only hands that should be involved in childrens future is the parent.  As we can see by the Justina Pelletier case, a good share of well meaning people think otherwise.

posted by: Historian | April 10, 2014  12:36pm

Again the Educrats have a new an expensive device to divide the parents by parental greed for their children and keep spending ever increasing more taxpayer’s funds in the “war” to educate children to some mythic standard they themselves invent and reinvent. 
  The “founding fathers” never conceived they were founding a massive entitlement when they wrote into the state’s constitution a provision requiring children be schooled. They did not even consider how the greed of the educrates and their enablers would end up controlling up to 3/4’s of town and state budgets and increasing. They never conceived putting a limit on education budgets
their innocent idealism has metamorphed into a state funded monstrosity promising everyone everything and claiming to be “this” close to fulfilling the “dream” of success for all. 
  Hasn’t worked and never will.

posted by: Not that Michael Brown | April 10, 2014  12:53pm

Jennifer - You appear to be a tool and shill for the hedge funds that are pushing charters.  Telling half the story is dishonest.  Charter schools do not perform any better that regular public schools.

posted by: Avg-Joe | April 10, 2014  12:55pm

Before you read this, full disclosure: I am a public school teacher
Also, I have to post this in two parts because the comment space is limited to 3000 characters.
Part 1:
I want to address some ideas or beliefs that surround this piece.  While Ms. Alexander never says this explicitly, the article could be construed as implying that charter schools do a better job than traditional public schools at educating children – specifically children in areas where there is poverty.  My question would be “Why are the Charter Schools so successful?” There are two possible answers.
The first answer, which is expressed by Ms. Alexander, is that charter schools offer a superior education to traditional public schools.  If this is the case, then another question must be raised: “Why is the state building more charter schools? Why not just implement the charter school system in public schools?”  In other words, if the charter schools do offer a better education and that experience can be replicated (as Ms. Alexander says it can be, since she is lobbying for more charter schools), then why not replicate it in the public schools that already exist?  Why build more schools to benefit some children who get in?  Why not just implement the system where EVERY student already is attending school?

posted by: Avg-Joe | April 10, 2014  12:56pm

Part 2:
This leads us to the second possible answer.  Since not every student can attend a charter school (as Ms. Alexander points out there is a waiting list), then perhaps the quality of the student entering the charter school is the leading factor in the charter school success story.  Students who have trouble reading and writing (and whose parents have trouble reading and writing as well) may find filling out applications to charter schools too difficult.  Students who pay no attention in school (and whose parents may pay no attention to local and state news at home) may not even be aware that there are charter schools to apply to.  Students with consistent behavior issues may be “counseled out” of the charter schools.
Without valid, impartial research we may never know which factor actually has the largest impact on charter school success.  A reasonable person would conclude that it may be a mix of both factors. In fact it would be hard to argue that having more intelligent, motivated students in your school would not lead to a superior educational experience.  A reasonable person would also conclude that if the charter schools had some secret system for success, that it would be shared with ALL schools so that ALL kids could succeed.  Therefore, I am more inclined to believe it is the second answer of more intelligent, able, well-behaved students entering the charter schools in the first place that leads to the charter school model’s success.
My point is this: If you would like to see more charter schools, fine; but realize that this will lead to (as it has in New York City and other places) a new form of segregation where the students who are capable of doing grade-appropriate work and behaving properly are educated largely in charter schools, and the students who do not have those abilities are relegated to the public schools.  THIS MAKES COMPARING THE PERFORMANCE OF CHARTER SCHOOL STUDENTS AND PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS A MOOT POINT.  So please, tell your message like it is: the future of our smarter, more capable children is in legislative hands.

posted by: StanMuzyk | April 10, 2014  2:19pm

@NTMB:  Unlike Jennifer Alexander you failed to illustrate one example of how public schools successfully compete with the proven charter schools education advantage—“by not citing your half of the story.”

posted by: ABC | April 10, 2014  3:27pm

Avg Joe - The State isn’t building new charters because the State doesn’t run charters.  The State is limited to enticing charters to exist and perhaps grow. If the State ran charters or “owned” them, they wouldn’t be charters!  (That’s not to say that the State shouldn’t find space for charters.)

You ask why can’t we just replicate charter success in regular public schools? 

The reason why charters do much better in CT than district run schools is because they AREN’T district run schools!

The secret to charter success in CT is that they are (1) not hamstrung by government bureaucratic red tape on a daily basis.  They run like private schools in the sense that they are completely focused on the educational needs and desires of their students and parents.  If they lose that focus, they lose their students who will choose to go elsewhere.  Not the same dynamic in a big government one-size-fits-all system.

And (2), they are not necessarily saddled with the burden of a teachers union.  The teachers at charters are there because they WANT to be there!  And they aren’t transferred in and out like we saw in “Waiting for Superman” with the “dance of the lemons”. 

How could this work at scale?

1. Let educators charter and run schools (vs the government)

2.  Let parents choose which school is best for their child;

and

(3) Ask government through a BOE to REGULATE educational quality of a charter district and ASSURE that we have an equitable system for all children regardless of race, income, or socioeconomic status.

posted by: Avg-Joe | April 10, 2014  6:13pm

ABC, you wrote:
“The secret to charter success in CT is that they are (1) not hamstrung by government bureaucratic red tape on a daily basis.  They run like private schools in the sense that they are completely focused on the educational needs and desires of their students and parents. “
Thanks for sharing that secret. We would’ve never thought to focus on the educational needs and desires of student in public schools. You guys are genius.  Pure genius.  Also, couldn’t the state just rewrite the law to get rid of the “red tape” for the public schools?

You also said:
“And (2), they are not necessarily saddled with the burden of a teachers union. The teachers at charters are there because they WANT to be there! And they aren’t transferred in and out like we saw in ‘Waiting for Superman’ with the ‘dance of the lemons’.”
So do the non-union schools outperform the unionized ones? Please direct me to some research or studies on this.  I’m sure “Waiting for Superman” is the ultimate source of information on all that; but is there a less credible source of information?  Like from a research group without an agenda to push forward?  Of course, even if you could find such a study, I wouldn’t take the time to look at it because I’m a tenured teacher with the union to protect me and all I do is whatever I want.
P.S. – We discussed sarcasm in my class today!

posted by: ABC | April 10, 2014  11:09pm

Joe - I apologize.  I didn’t realize you were being witty.  I guess I’m not the genius you say I am.  Let me try again on your second round of questions:

Do non-union schools outperform unionized schools?

Answer: Of course they don’t.  Everyone, except for the thousands of dumb parents on charter school wait lists, knows that when you combine ed school grads with inflexible work rules along with zero accountability, you will create a professional environment that always trumps private sector, free market professional values.  After all, why do you think all the top college talent always goes for the government jobs?

“Couldn’t the state just rewrite the law to get rid of the red tape”?”

Answer: Of course they could! Tomorrow! And the State has every motivation to write itself out of the 7 billion dollar education budget doesn’t it?  After all, the bureaucrats at the State work for the taxpayers, right?  A few thousand SEBAC layoffs and we’d be in great shape.  You ought to campaign on that one.

posted by: Avg-Joe | April 11, 2014  8:07am

Ah, ABC, you are a free-market believer! A theory that is neat as a pin and, for many, second only to their religious beliefs in importance. 
Unfortunately, it does not work in education.  Free markets are designed to promote efficiency toward the bottom line, not equity.  So you just proved my point.  The students that are capable will wind up in the charter schools and the traditional public schools will be the dumping grounds for the kids who struggle.
Here is an article and a book that will back up my point:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/10/12/why-the-market-theory-of-education-reform-doesnt-work/
http://hepg.org/hep-home/books/between-public-and-private
Sorry, but stay strong.  Only two and a half more months to Milton Friedman’s 102nd birthday!

posted by: Not that Michael Brown | April 11, 2014  5:28pm

@redlady - Choice Schools Are ‘Hyper-Segregated’
click here