All educators should be held to the highest standards

There has been a spate of recent articles about alleged wrong-doing in specific charter schools in New York. These instances mirror the inevitable wrong-doing that we hear about in our old-style public schools. In both cases, it is almost inevitable that some rotten apples will spoil a good idea. Public education, be it in charter schools or in the old-style schools, is our best hope. Charter schools were established as one way to challenge our earlier model public schools to do better and in some cases that is already happening.

We know that our future is tied to the well-being of our kids. If our kids are not well educated, they will be unable to compete in the world economy. If the kids in India and China can do advanced mathematics and our kids can’t, the United States and the state of New York are on their way to becoming second rate. Let’s face it — rich people can spend a lot of money on exclusive private schools for their kids. Some of these places cost around forty thousand dollars a year. The success of these schools is just another example of the rich getting richer like at the end of the Monopoly game. For really smart kids in New York, there is the option of the merit-based public schools like Bronx Science, Stuyvesant and LaGuardia (Music and Art and Performing Arts.)

We all know what the problem is — too many of our kids are left to try to learn in impossible conditions. We have watched the governor and the Legislature strip our schools of needed resources and conditions only worsen. There are those who think our teachers unions are keeping us from achieving educational reform. They are not. They are no more than an amalgam of teachers who fight for their rights. Of course, things have gotten out of hand. The indefensible is common place. The main problem is that no matter what the union and some fuzzy headed education professors say, it is harder to fire a bad teacher than it is to get to the moon. If the unions can be faulted for anything, it is for letting things get to a place where the inevitable reforms would have to be forced on them. But as Governor Andrew Cuomo has been known to intone, “It is what it is.” As we used to sing on the camp bus, “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.”

We should have learned that human nature being what it is, some will inevitably take advantage simply because they can. We read of a few corrupt charter school administrators who are so anxious to show good results among their students that they break the rules. They make sure that only those who are likely to succeed will be admitted to their schools when the admission process should be run by lottery if there are more applications than available spaces in a charter school. Others are accused of just plain stealing and hiring by nepotism. The answer is that if we do not have people really holding educators, any educators, to standards, any system will be corrupted.

Let’s face it, some public schools are better than others because they are run by people who care and so are some charter schools. All the evidence is not in yet. It is a common practice in some charter schools that teachers put in longer hours and adhere to a longer work year. So, we can begin to see that all of this will shake out. The unions will have to examine their role in making schools better, not only for teachers but for the students, the parents and each community. The charter school movement will have to stay with rigorous standards and those charters and the old public schools that are not doing their jobs will have to be closed. It takes guts to do that, especially when a hundred people are screaming at you because they have been turned into an organized mob by a few self-serving charter-crats. For their parts, the governor and the Legislature will have to find the money to fund our most essential need, the education of our kids.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/26/11

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