We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
With the sad news that Florida courts have struck down their system of charter schools, championed by Jeb Bush - as being unconstitutional, we will take a look at the state of affairs in CT, where Gov. Rell seems to be reluctant to take on the issue - which means the unions. Hey, Gov. Rell - you have some political capital, so use it for something worthwhile.
The politics of education reform typically features Republicans pushing for more choice and Democrats defending the status quo. But not always. In Connecticut, Democrats in the legislature are eager to expand the state's successful charter school model while GOP Governor Jodi Rell refuses to lift a finger to help.
Forty states and Washington, D.C., now have charter schools, which were devised 15 years ago as education laboratories. Charters are public schools -- a fact that opponents like to play down -- but they are not overly burdened by union rules and hence are free to try different pedagogical approaches. A charter might extend the school day, for instance, or pay teachers based on results rather than seniority.
As it happens, Connecticut boasts some of the finest charter schools in the country. In June, the Hartford Courant reported that at "New Haven's Amistad Academy, where 98 percent of students are African American or Hispanic, math and reading scores have risen to triple those of neighboring public schools and equal to scores in [wealthier and predominantly white] Greenwich."
Common Ground High School, a charter in New Haven that caters to at-risk students, has lower drop-out rates and higher college participation than regular New Haven high schools. And at Bridge Academy in Bridgeport, where 96% of students are minority, every graduate last year was accepted to college. The waiting list for a charter school in Connecticut averages 200 students, a function of the fact that the state has only 14 charters in operation and caps enrollment at 300 students per school.
Last year charter proponents urged Governor Rell to lift the enrollment cap, increase per-pupil spending (charter students receive several thousand dollars less than what the state spends for non-charter students), and make funding for facilities more equitable. Yet when Ms. Rell released her budget in February, there was no extra money for charters.
It was due only to the efforts of Democratic leaders in the legislature that Connecticut's charters ultimately received a modest increase in per-pupil spending and a pilot program for facilities funding that would allow one charter school -- one! -- access to the same school construction bonding that other public schools receive. Last month, the state board of education -- headed by another reform-minded Democrat -- voted unanimously to expand the state's charter program by 10 schools and $18 million.
Nevertheless, when Ms. Rell presents her new budget next month, she's expected once again to ignore the education reformers. That's because she is running for re-election in November and is seeking the support of the teachers union -- the Connecticut Education Association -- which is dead set against charters and any other education reform that threatens its monopoly. With a job-approval rating that's remained well over 70% since she took office, Ms. Rell has the political capital to take on an entrenched interest that hurts poor kids. But she apparently lacks the political will.
According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report, Connecticut has the country's largest achievement gap between rich and poor students in fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade reading and eighth-grade math. Given their successful track record, charters could help Connecticut close that embarrassing gap. Too bad its governor is missing in action.
Charter schools suck. My husband taught in one. A conservative idealist who rapidly soured on the model when working in one. They are a way of educating mostly minority kids on the cheap. But putting uniforms on and hiring their welfare moms as unskilled aides does not improve the kids education. Most of the kids there have failed in the public schools because of largely undiagnosed special education needs. Local school districts are all too glad to unload these children onto charter schools which do not have to comply as closely with federal law on securing an appropriate education for special ed kids. More later perhaps (off to earn a lliving) but finally, I should say that my husband left his charter school after he refused to fudge the kids' grades and give them artificially easy tests (with answers pre-taught) that would have made the schools stats look good.
I agree that the teachers' unions are trashing public education but charter schools are not the answer.