March 13, 2012

Maine Voices: Time to get behind Baxter Academy of Technology and Science

The need for alternatives for Portland high school students and their parents is abundantly clear.

By DR. KATHERINE K. MERSETH

It is unfortunate that Portland Mayor Mike Brennan has suggested that parents should be skeptical of the proposed Baxter Academy for Technology and Science ("Deadline limits charter school opening in the fall," March 6).

Perhaps the mayor is not aware of the education credentials of those proposing and advising this new charter school.

Or he may not be aware of how charters are approved and revoked if a school does not perform up to standards set out in the charter.

If the proposed Baxter Academy fails to meet the conditions of its charter, it should be closed by the Charter Commission. The accountability for charter schools is real and has teeth.

Mayor Brennan opposed charter legislation as a state senator, and it's dismaying that his views remain the same despite his new role. As mayor, he now is responsible for all of Portland's citizens, including the families who wish to have their children receive an outstanding education in math and science.

The need for better alternatives for high school students and their parents in Portland is abundantly clear.

Brennan calls for boosting the enrollment at Portland High and Deering High even though their results in math and science are less than stellar. In fact, they are shockingly low.

The records of these schools in math and science indicate that seven out of 10 students at Portland High fail to meet state standards in math and the results are similar in science.

Deering fares only slightly better, where six out of 10 students are not proficient in math and two-thirds of the students are not proficient in science. The current options for a high quality high school education in Portland are not strong enough.

Parents who pay taxes to support public schools in Portland deserve better. And this is particularly true in the fields of math and science, where future careers and jobs will depend even more on proficiency in these fields. Without better schools, parents will have no choice but to send their children to these failing schools or to seek out private or home schools.

Charters are public schools, supported with public money, to educate children in a particular geographic area. When students move from one kind of public school to another, the public education dollar moves with them. When a child leaves a school, the school should no longer receive funding to educate the now-absent child. Why should it be any different in Portland?

Maine has enacted very sound charter legislation that explicitly defines charters as public schools. Just as public schools, charters must take all comers, and may not discriminate in any way. Coming to the charter world after 40 other states have enacted similar legislation, Maine finally has the opportunity to offer viable alternatives and to create schools that work.

However, creating high-quality charter schools requires enthusiasm and support from all parties vested with the responsibility for the public good.

The law already passed, Mr. Mayor. It's time to get on board and rather than express concern over the "economic well-being of Portland's school system" (and by inference the adults who work in the schools), Mayor Brennan ought to be aggressively working to expand high-quality opportunities for all students. Children represent 20 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future. What could be more important?

The charter commission is correct to proceed cautiously and with deliberate speed, acting responsibly for all the children in Maine. However, the commission also must keep in mind that students and families in Portland currently have no choice but to attend schools like Deering and Portland High.

It is the responsibility of Mayor Brennan and the Charter Commission to provide high quality education for all children. Any unnecessary delay in the decision to open Baxter Academy of Technology and Science will deny important and viable options for Portland students, families and the future of the state of Maine.

The law already passed, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor Brennan ought to be aggressively working to expand high-quality opportunities for all students. Children represent 20 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future. What could be more important?

Dr. Katherine K. Merseth is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

— Special to The Press Herald

 

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