Idea of charter schools is like kissing a pig

Published 11:32 pm Monday, March 26, 2012

Would you ever kiss a pig? What if the pig were wearing lipstick? From a distance it might look a little better, but as you get closer, you find the same dirty, hairy and smelly pig. By dressing it up with cosmetics, some try to make it look more attractive.

There are pressing needs in Alabama’s education system. 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 upcoming weeks, some legislators will try to persuade others to kiss the pig. They will advocate bringing charter schools to Alabama. However, charter schools are like pigs with lipstick.

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Charter schools run outside of 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 the laws and standards of traditional public schools actually hurt teaching and learning. The records in other states clearly show on average, charter schools 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 charters 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 within 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 to 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.

But because charter schools do not have to follow state law, charters do not hire certified teachers. Instead, they may hire individuals with no teaching experience or training at all.

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 is like putting lipstick on a pig. We know what works in Alabama’s educational system.