The “Katrina moment” is a fave expression of the self-appointed education reform crowd. After all, who can forget the dramatic images of NOLA residents on rooftops after the hurricane struck, desperately trying to summon rescue personnel Teach for America? But how tone deaf do you have to be to refer excitedly to an urban school district’s “Katrina moment” while a hurricane is actually bearing down on New Orleans?
Meet Massachusetts’ very own Jim Stergios, head of the Pioneer Institute turned chief charter booster. Doctor Stergios, whose “column” appears regularly on Boston.com, has long had nothing but love for charters, but since the state took over the Lawrence schools the doc’s crush has became a full-fledged case of charter fever.
In case you’ve somehow managed to miss Stergios’ Rock the School House column (humbly subtitled “the best way to lead tomorrow’s America”) or one of the nearly identical op-eds he’s been churning out all summer long, EduShyster is happy to summarize. Charter schools are great. No wait–I mean, charter schools are REALLY great. In fact they are so much better than innovation-less, union contract stifled regular schools that it is practically a crime that there aren’t more of them. That’s why we need to break what he calls “the adult protection racket” on Beacon Hill and approve more charter schools ASAP.
Week after week, column after column, Doctor Stergios has been making his case for MORE CHARTERS NOW. Except there’s a problem. While we all know how great charter schools are (did I mention that they are really great?), it turns out that they’re not so great at educating the kinds of students that Lawrence is filled with: those who need special ed (20%) or kids whose first language isn’t English (a whopping 75%). But that’s enough from the EduShyster. Let’s allow Doctor Stergios to make his case, shall we?
- A classic Stergios column must include a poll, in this case a survey showing that Lawrence parents are WILD for charters. But Doctor S. never mentions that the poll was commissioned by the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, the lobby group for charters in the state.
- Stergios’ go-to example of the potential greatness that lies in store for the students of Lawrence if only we would take his advice about ‘the best way to lead tomorrow’s America’ today is an existing charter in Lawrence, Community Day. Sixth graders there topped the MCAS math rankings last year. But as worthy as that accomplishment is, Stergios routinely leaves out the fact that there are just 22 6th graders at Community Day. Between 5th and 6th grade, the school loses more than half of its students. Something tells me that we’d see similar gains among sixth graders in the Lawrence Public Schools were more than half of their fellows to drop away before test day.
- Now that demand and quality have been established, it’s on to supply. In my favorite Stergios piece of the summer, the balls-ily titled “Sunset the Lawrence District School Monopoly,” the doctor says that the charter operators he knows would “step up and expand in Lawrence in a heartbeat.” But as I’m sure Stergios knows, while charter operators may be eager to open new schools, they have little stomach for taking over existing district schools. It’s virtually impossible for a charter to play by public school rules (accepting ANY student who walks in the door, for example) and post the kind of test scores they need to justify their existence. That’s why the “Proven Providers” who’ve set up shop in Lawrence and to whom Stergios constantly refers are such a motley crew. Case in point: Phoenix Academy, brought in to boost graduation rates in Lawrence, saw just 12% of its students graduate last year.
I’d love for Dr. Stergios to prove me wrong. In fact if he can find me JUST ONE EXAMPLE of a charter school in Massachusetts that has a student population that looks like that of Lawrence–and manages to hang on to the vast majority of its students from year to year–I will gladly treat him to carne asada at Cafe Azteca. What do you say, Doc?
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