Op-Ed: Plan for more charter schools flawed in many ways

The state education department commissioner’s proposal last week to hand over more public education resources to privately managed charter schools deserves an ‘F’ as both ‘incomplete’ and tone deaf (“State education board wants to open eight new charter schools,” Nov. 7). 

Now is not the time to ask taxpayers for another $21 million on an experiment whose record of ensuring a quality education for all has yet to be demonstrated.

Op-ed submit bugIt has been just six months since the scandal involving the charter management outfit Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) and the schools it operated in Hartford and Bridgeport made headlines. Recall that the extent of the alleged corruption and nepotism quickly led to a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of FUSE and its affiliated Jumoke schools that today is still ongoing.

In August, the Malloy-Wyman Administration rightly responded to the crisis by ordering a thorough review of the deptartment of education’s policies governing charter management companies. The department quickly agreed to changes that echo what parents, educators, and advocates have been urging for years: charters should be held accountable to the same standard as traditional public schools.

But the ink has barely dried on the new guidelines adopted in response and the current commissioner has since announced he will not serve in the administration’s second term. The state should not green-light more charters or expand their reach without first verifying that education department oversight of charters has actually improved. 

Beyond the crisis this summer that put charters in the spotlight are unanswered questions about their ability to deliver a quality education for all, not just a select few, students. Parents, teachers, and advocates have consistently raised these questions and they deserve answers before more public money is spent on the charter experiment.

Among those questions is why we should be rewarding charter outfits that discriminate against children with disabilities or have special needs with our tax dollars. 

Most charters enroll by a lottery that often excludes students in need of special education, have behavioral disorders, and are English Language Learners (ELLs). In fact, parents in 2013 filed a federal education department civil rights complaint over discrimination against children with disabilities at an Achievement First charter school in Hartford.

What parents in Connecticut do not need is more private charter operators putting our schoolchildren with special needs last. From our perspective, it risks reversing recent progress made at closing the state’s achievement gap and denying too many of our state’s students access to a quality, equitable education.

Another unanswered question is why we aren’t investing education resources in community schools that will educate all children, instead of cherry-picking students to boost standardized test scores. An investigation by Reuters in 2013 found charters across the country imposing “significant barriers” that result in “skimming the most motivated, disciplined students and leaving the hardest-to-reach behind.” 

Wouldn’t we all be better served investing our tax dollars in traditional neighborhood schools that do not exclude our special education, ELLs, and children with behavioral disorders?

Finally, there is the question of whether charters even deliver better results for the select population of students they do serve. A 2013 national study by Stanford University found that two-thirds of charter schools are performing worse or the same as traditional neighborhood schools. 

Melodie Peters

Melodie Peters

The FUSE/Jumoke crisis exposed the failure of the education department to live up to its responsibility of good governance and to assure oversight of charter operators. Students, their parents, educators and all state taxpayers deserve better than an agency that can’t do better than ‘incomplete’ in this critical area. 

And until the department can demonstrate that it can, the State Board of Education should deny the outgoing commissioner’s request. Instead, they would be wise to take up the un-answered questions about charters from parents, teachers, and advocates with those applying to lead the agency in the future.

Melodie Peters is president of AFT Connecticut, which represents more than 29,000 professionals across the state, including PreK-12 teachers, paraeducators and education support personnel in 29 local and regional school districts.

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