Charter schools not the answer

How to lift up city schools? It means addressing societal problems, not hiring private companies.

In his recent commentary, my esteemed colleague Chester Finn Jr. laments the defeat of Gov. Larry Hogan's proposal to create a state run, non-unionized district of charter schools charged with taking over failing schools ("Putting the needs of Maryland children first," March 13). Simultaneously, he derides the status quo, those who would be considered the current stakeholders in public education, for stifling innovation by protecting their own interests at the expense of our students. He disparages lawmakers in Annapolis for lacking the courage to innovate while ignoring the recommendations of the very Commission on Excellence and Innovation on which he and I both honorably serve.  

We tried privatization solutions here in Baltimore, and they failed when Edison Schools Inc. was allowed to take over three public schools. Mr. Finn must know this well as he served on Edison's board of directors.  

I present that the defeat of this bill, a slap against the national hysteria toward privatization in the guise of innovation, illustrates the desire of many to end the trend toward market-based solutions in education and instead find solutions based on common sense. Yes, there is room for improvement in our nearly-best-in-the-nation schools in Maryland. As a teacher in a high school on the west side of Baltimore, my students and I know the challenges all too well. The problems are not with the teachers' unions, the superintendents or the school boards. The problems are societal and the solutions advocated by Mr. Finn and his supporters have been the wrong ones.

The child poverty rate in major American cities increased from 19.9 percent in 2013 to 30.6 percent in 2016. In Maryland, poverty rates in school age children have risen 45 percent since 2002. In 2015, 46 percent of children in Maryland qualified for free and reduced-price lunches. We know there are strong links between socio-economics, social-emotional well being, and student performance. Dealing with these problems is where our innovations need to be focused.  

So many of our children are traumatized, are exposed to violence and drug abuse, suffer food and housing insecurity, the breakdown of family structures, and generational economic strife. First world and developing countries that consistently outperform the United States share similarities in how they deal with these issues including directing financial resources and the best teachers to the students in the most need and working with health agencies to ensure that their students are prepared when it is time for them to enter school. In the United States, increasing wraparound services, developing community schools and addressing the needs of the whole child have been shown to increase student outcomes as well as improve entire communities.

It is possible that stakeholders will rally around innovation, but it needs to be the right innovation.

Morgan Showalter, Baltimore

The writer is a city high school teacher and served as appointee of the Baltimore Teachers Union to the Maryland Commission on Excellence and Innovation in Education. 

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