Gambling with our children’s educationPublished 5:59am Saturday, March 10, 2012
There are pressing needs in Alabama education.
This year’s state school budget is 20 percent less than it was in 2008. Over the past four years cuts have been so deep that our schools have literally lost billions.
These cuts have led to a long list of problems: thousands of teachers have been lost, class sizes have increased, the state has not bought new textbooks in years, and we have limited award-winning programs like the nation’s best Math and Science program, AMSTI, which is now in less than half of Alabama’s schools.
But these cuts are not the only threat to our children’s education or our schools’ funding.
In the coming weeks the Alabama legislature will begin considering legislation to bring charter schools to Alabama.
Charter schools run outside the laws and standards of our local public schools. The concept behind charter schools is that more autonomy will lead to higher student performance.
It is based on a theory that the laws and standards of traditional public schools actually hurt teaching and learning.
The record in other states clearly shows that charter schools on average have a lower performance than traditional public schools.
Stanford University conducted the most extensive national study of charter schools.
That study found that 38 percent of charters perform much lower than traditional public schools, while only 17 percent performed higher.
The remaining schools performed no better than traditional public schools. Simply put, for every charter school that outperforms a traditional public school, two charter schools fail.
Other states’ experiences also show that failing charter schools can be nearly impossible to close.
The reason is because these private entities that are making a profit from these schools do not want to lose their cash cow, so they hire lobbyists and make campaign contributions in order to buy support in the legislature.
Furthermore, there is a reason that our public schools are required to operate according to the laws and standards that we currently have.
These laws and standards were formed over the course of decades. They were created out of our experiences and because they helped improve our children’s performance both inside and outside of the classroom.
For example, consider teacher certification.
In Alabama, to become certified a teacher must take college courses on learning styles, classroom management and teaching strategies.
Alabama college students preparing to be Math and Science teachers even get training in AMSTI. Before that teacher walks into a classroom, they have already spent hundreds of hours in an actual classroom student teaching under the guidance of a veteran educator.
But because charter schools do not have to follow state law, charters do not hire certified teachers.
Instead, they hire young people with no teaching experience or training. It is no surprise many of these well-intentioned young people struggle to manage their classrooms and engage their students.
We need to have certified teachers, just like we need the other laws and standards that guide our schools on how to address student discipline or special needs.
Establishing schools that do not follow any of these standards and laws is a recipe for disaster.
We know what works in Alabama education. AMSTI is proven to be the equivalent of 28 extra days of learning for each student.
Reducing class sizes improves achievement. Having a textbook for every student to bring home is important.
Charter schools may be nice in theory, but the results don’t lie.
Instead of gambling on charter schools, we should be investing in our existing schools.
Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each week.