Make all schools better, not just some

The governor’s growing obsession with charter schools is frightening for the future of public education in Alaska.

He talks as if charter schools are by far the best answer to the state’s low student test scores.

He has told Alaskans he would not support an increase in state funding for public schools unless the Legislature also backs his proposal to bypass local school boards when parents want to start up a new charter school.

At the same time, he resists providing adequate support for public school districts that have not seen any real increase in the state funding formula in seven years, falling far behind in what they need to provide a quality education.

He admires charter schools and seems to dismiss public schools as money pits.

OK, I get it, Gov. Mike Dunleavy believes charter schools are the future for turning young Alaskans into the best and the brightest. And therefore, they deserve more state help and encouragement.

Yes, charter schools can provide a wonderful environment for some students, often specializing in a particular area of study or approach. Good for those students; not so good for everyone else.

Charter schools pull the most promising students with the most engaged parents out of our schools, further weakening public education. Charters are not required to provide bus transportation, making it hard on single-parent and lower-income households to enroll their children in a charter if they cannot afford to shuttle kids to and from school.

Charters are not the answer to low test scores, governor, they are an abandonment of the students left out.

It says public schools are sinking and it’s too hard to save everyone, so we’ll provide lifeboats for some, while the rest can swim as best they can.

It separates the potential winners and losers at an early age, with the state helping to pick the teams.

It’s a reminder of what I experienced in high school in Chicago in the 1960s.

Back then, Chicago Public Schools believed in a national trend to put students into “tracks” based on their test scores. The “smart kids” who tested well got the best classes, the best teachers and extra credits toward our grade point average.

The schools would put students into one of three tracks: Honors, Star or Century. If your scores were just average, you stayed behind with all the other kids. Students in the Century track would get a full extra grade point for each class.

What it meant is that the students who already were ahead in school and in life by virtue of higher test scores and, in most cases, engaged and active (and pushy) parents, had a better chance of learning more and getting into college.

The kids not enrolled in the Honors, Star or Century tracks, well, they had a harder time. Sure, we all went to the same school, but their classes were larger, I don’t remember that they had team teachers like we had in Century English and, generally, less was expected of them in school.

I know that in many ways schools have changed for the better since I went to high school. Gym class teams are no longer segregated and the lunchroom food is better (I always wondered about the orange-colored grilled cheese sandwiches and why the creamed chipped beef solidified into one shiny blob on the plate).

Charter schools strike me the same as the tracks of the 1960s. Provide a better educational opportunity for some, but not all. That’s what the governor sounds like when he praises charter schools and dismisses public education.

That is not equal opportunity for all.


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