My Turn/Wilkins:

  • WILKINS

Published: 9/18/2016 5:42:07 PM

Since the beginning of charter schools (and private schools), there is one absolute fact: the students go there because either the student or the parent (or both) wants the student there.

That sounds so simple, and of course, it is true.

On the surface, you might think that is great, and isn’t it nice? The problem is that it sets up a very un-level playing field for the mainstream public schools (hereafter simply called “public schools”) that are forced to compete with the charter schools for success, for good students and for funding.

It’s a battle that the public schools can’t win — it’s not even close. Yet, we ignore that and expect our public schools to improve and to be more like the charter schools.

Remember that the public schools MUST teach all students up to age 16 and are punished with poor ratings if those over 16 drop out at too high a rate.

My favorite story is the judge that sentenced a young mother on welfare to attend school to keep her welfare benefits. Hmm. She just has to show up and be in classes? She’s not required to do anything to pass? Nope. However, the teacher in the classroom has to deal with that apathetic student every day, is rated by the principal based partially on that student’s (poor) performance and also has to spend time trying to motivate that student, which takes away from all the other students in the class. Funny — they don’t send that type of student to charter schools.

In the poor public school districts, many students go home to an empty house, having only one parent who works two or three jobs to keep the apartment and feed the kids. Or, the family may have any number of other reasons that preclude parental involvement in their education.

Many of the students don’t have Internet access at home and/or the supervision to use it for school work.

In short, the poor districts, and to a lesser but still significant extent, the moderate-income districts, have students that only do schoolwork at school and have no support from home. Many of those same students don’t get a proper night’s sleep and don’t eat well. There are any number of other bad things that hamper any efforts to educate them.

This is what the public schools in the poor districts MUST deal with. You can bet that the charter schools rarely, if ever, have to deal with that type of student. No need for numbers here: remember that all the students in the charter schools either want to be there or have strong support at home. They are invested.

In the state ballot Question 2 language, there is a requirement to make a “plan” to include poorer students, but it does not require the charter schools to actually do the plan.

Also remember that when students who care about their education leave a public school, it diminishes the school they leave. It could be that the parents of those students might have been involved with the parent-teacher association, those students might have been involved with student government or they did any number of other activities that made the public school a better place. The public school is weaker when those families leave.

A fact you may find interesting is that there are no charter schools in the wealthy suburbs around Boston. You know, the places like Dover, Newton, Weston, Wellesley and the like. Maybe we don’t have a “free and equal public education for all” after all.

The only real solution to “a free and equal public education for all” is to fix our public schools and enable our public school teachers to teach. Charter schools do nothing except to drain badly-needed resources from our public schools to educate the chosen few who go there.

Charter schools severely damage our public school systems and diminish the quality of education for the vast majority of public school students, and charter schools hurt those students who desperately need a quality education the most.

Vote “No” on the charter school ballot question this fall. We do not need any more charter schools.

Let’s fix our public schools instead.

Doug Wilkins has been in public education for over 35 years. He has taught both high school and middle school and has been an administrator. He currently teaches at Greenfield Community College.


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