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[Susan notes: Here is a rarity: a school superintendent speaks out.]

Published in Gulf Live
02/21/2010

To the editor

Facts don't support charter schools



The recently issued Stanford Report is the first detailed national assessment on the impact of charter schools.



The findings are as follows: Seventeen percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.



In Victor Rivero's 2009 report that reviews Chicago's turnaround school funding model, estimated costs are significantly more expensive in charter schools than public schools. Jay Mathews' book, "Work Hard! Be Nice!", points out the higher costs of these schools and their founders' objective of acquiring state funds for their operation.



The projected costs you currently hear about do not include added fuel costs for transportation, energy costs for extended hours, and teacher contracts for extended school years.



Anyone who has researched charter schools is well aware that when charter schools are more successful than their traditional public school counterparts, this success is attributed to extended time on academic task.



Time costs more money.



One of the reasons cited in the Mississippi Senate's recent approval of a charter school bill is the need for flexibility in education.



This desire for flexibility will be tested in how the Senate deals with House Bill 624, which restricts school districts' ability to be flexible in meeting the needs of their surrounding communities, by mandating a later start date.



In a newspaper op-ed piece, state Sen. Michael Watson and school teacher Wendy Daughdrill say that "for once, Mississippi has a chance to lead the way in education."



What a slap in the face to the teachers, children and communities on the Gulf Coast and across the state that have been nationally recognized Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education.



Ten schools on the Gulf Coast have earned this recognition since 2005. These schools represent the top 1 percent in performance in the nation.



Study what these public schools have done to meet the needs of all students.



Students currently have "choice" in our schools. They select diploma tracks based on their future plans.



Any lack of flexibility that students, teachers, parents and communities feel is the result of the federal No Child Left Behind law and the state's Children First Act.



Please don't misunderstand me. Public schools should be accountable for student achievement.

But don't pass laws that restrict time frames, narrow the curriculum and create punitive actions against educators for not doing well on mandated tests, and then offer to ride in on a white horse to offer flexibility and choice, when every child and teacher in Mississippi deserves to be afforded this opportunity.



It is quite the double standard.



In their op-ed piece, Sen. Watson and Ms. Daughdrill maintain that a charter school can be anything -- a vocational school, an elementary school, a college prep program.



Public schools offer everything from culinary arts and polymer science to allied health classes. Our workforce development programs include carpentry, electronics, drafting and welding.



A variety of Junior ROTC programs are offered for students considering the military.



We have vigorous opportunities for our students in academics, arts and athletics. Mock trial, forensics (speech and debate) and robotics teams have been added to our schools thanks to dedicated, hard-working teachers and partnerships with business and industry.



We also have wonderful partnerships with colleges and universities.



If Mississippi wants to acquire "Race to the Top" funds for charter schools, then put these resources in the poorest communities in Mississippi with failing schools.



Please keep in mind that "Race to the Top" funds are one-time-only federal dollars. These monies will not support charter schools indefinitely; and who will pay the bill when these monies run out?



You do not change the state's academic performance by limiting access to the existing great public school programs through a lottery system for students. This lottery format excludes students; it does not provide choice.



We need our existing schools to be funded and held accountable for the laws already in place.



What agenda is at work when you break up functioning schools that are rated as Successful, High Performing, and Star schools in the new accountability model with a magic bullet that misfires 83 percent of the time?



The writer is Superintendent of the

Pascagoula School District
, Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Wayne Rodolfich


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