Saturday, May 18, 2013
By LINDSEY C. HANSEN
KENNEBUNK – This month, the first charter schools in Maine will open. Imagine that 100 Portland high school students decide to attend the newly proposed Baxter Academy this fall. This highly possible scenario will cause up to $750,000 to be withdrawn from Portland Public Schools.
A teacher’s aide works with a student at Longfellow Elementary School in Portland. The opening of charter schools in Maine will siphon money from public schools, a reader says.
2010 File Photo/John Patriquin
Charter schools are publicly funded. Here's the math: According to the Maine Department of Education, $6,000 to $7,500 will travel from a student's local public school to fund the charter.
What does this mean to you? Your tax dollars will now go to support a non-public school outside your community. As students leave your local school to attend a charter, their funding travels with them.
This loss of funds will force the district to compensate by imposing cuts to staff and student programs. Smaller and poorer districts will feel the effect even more as students and funds are siphoned to support charters – often outside their community.
Imagine two staff positions being cut for every 10 students who travel out of district for a charter – a high price the majority will pay for a few to have a choice.
Charter schools by definition are freed from some of the rules and regulations enacted on traditional public schools. Elected officials have worked with communities to draft such regulations.
As a teacher, I admit that I get annoyed by many of the regulations imposed on me, but we should democratically change these with the help of our local government to ensure equity for all students, not give an exception to a few.
According to the Maine Department of Education, a publicly funded charter is responsible only to the authorizer, which, in most cases, will be the Maine Charter School Commission. This consists of seven people appointed by the State Board of Education.
We have previously been a state that valued local independent decision making. Charter schools are not held accountable to the communities they serve.
Research shows that states with well-developed charter systems rarely outperform traditional public schools. In fact, the evaluation of the public charter schools by the U.S. Department of Education found in all five case-study states, charter schools were outperformed by traditional public schools.
In addition, one of the largest-scale studies in 2006 by the National Center for Education Statistics found that students in charter schools performed several points worse than students in traditional public schools in both reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.
One study also showed that charter schools have higher teacher turnover and less experienced or knowledgeable staff than traditional public schools. Propaganda in the form of biased documentaries and false political claims has masked the actual research from the general public.
Maine has had a reputation for education innovation, and for making decisions based on what was best for residents of the state rather than what is popular outside our borders.
If we really want to strengthen Maine schools, we should follow successful models for reform – not popular ones spewed by politicians who are searching for a quick fix. Research shows that successful schools in the United States as well as in other countries do the following:
• Strengthen teacher-student relationships through advisory programs, looped classes, smaller schools and team teaching.
• Practice cooperative learning techniques, project-based learning and performance assessments to engage and motivate students.
• Employ talented, highly qualified teachers and provide extensive opportunities for collaboration and professional development.
Lastly, the most successful school systems in the world do not have charter schools. They strengthen their schools by uniting districts, not weakening them by siphoning off funds and students to schools that are an exception to regulation and local oversight.
Here in Maine, charter school applications were due Friday, and the first school will open today.
As a Mainer, classroom teacher and supporter of equitable education, I encourage you to become part of this conversation and share with your local school board, legislators and government that you do not think charter schools are a solution for Maine, and that they should support other more successful models for reform. We are Mainers. Together, we can build an education system that will be a model for other states to follow.
Lindsey C. Hansen teaches seventh-grade science at the Middle School of the Kennebunks in Kennebunk.
– Special to the Telegram