Beyond Charter School Squabble

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SOURCE:   Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise

Op-Ed by Barbara Gardner

When Charlie Baker and Martha Coakley voiced their support for more charter schools earlier this month, they missed a bigger point. Charter or no charter isn’t what matters; it’s the quality of education a school gives our children. In my many years in the education field, both as a legislator and co-founder of a school-improvement nonprofit, I’ve seen some very good charter schools in the commonwealth, and also some bad ones. But given that only about 18 percent of Massachusetts students go to charter schools, lifting the cap and building a few more won’t help the thousands of other students who need our help.

Instead, the charter-school squabble has taken money, energy and attention away from finding solutions that work. My experience, backed by research, shows that we can create vastly better schools when we provide four basic ingredients: ongoing support and education for teachers; training for principals to be educational leaders; teamwork in buildings; and quick measurements to assess what works and what doesn’t.

It’s ironic that this squabble involves a new charter school in Fitchburg, because the Fitchburg Public Schools use all of these ingredients to produce very impressive results. Fitchburg has nearly twice the state average of students who are low-income or speak English as a second language. Their students are more likely to be homeless or have other difficulties at home. Yet Superintendent Andre Ravenelle and his staff have done what many national experts say is impossible.

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