You can’t fix schools by abandoning them

July 12, 2017

By State Representative Craig Ford

You can’t fix something that is broken by abandoning it. A car that breaks down on the side of the road won’t repair itself. If you want the car to run again, you have to give it the repairs it needs.

The same is true when it comes to education.

When the first charter schools were created in this country, the intention was for them to be places where educators could experiment with new methods of teaching to see how they could make gains in traditional public schools.

But instead of helping to improve traditional public schools, charter schools became a way for a handful of select students to escape underperforming or troubled public schools. And while those few kids may have gotten a chance at a better education, the vast majority of kids in those schools got left behind.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that charter schools will perform any better than traditional public schools.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes conducted two separate studies comparing the results between charter schools and traditional public schools in twenty-six different states. What they found was that nearly seventy percent of charter schools performed the same or worse than traditional public schools.

Even the U.S. Department of Education has repeatedly found that charter schools do not show test results that are meaningfully better or worse than traditional public schools.

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that charter schools did perform better than traditional public schools. Wouldn’t it make the most sense to then take what’s working in the charter schools and start doing that in the traditional public schools so that every child can receive the benefit?

The reason that doesn’t happen is because the point of charter schools isn’t to fix failing public schools; it’s to abandon them.

The whole idea behind charter schools and the school choice agenda is that some public schools can’t be fixed, so the only solution is to give a handful of kids a new school and leave the rest of the kids stuck in the failing school (but now with even fewer resources because thousands of dollars will be taken away from the failing school and given to the charter school).

Well, I don’t accept that kind of thinking. I still believe that America is supposed to be the land of opportunity. So, for me, giving up on any kid is simply not an option.

When we give up on our kids, what we are really giving up on is our future.

Our economy depends on the quality of our public education system. When we recruit business and industry to Alabama, those business leaders want to know that our workforce has the training and education to do the jobs they will bring.

Existing businesses also rely on the public schools to provide an educated workforce. Without our public schools, most local employers wouldn’t be able to stay in business.

And it is a well-established fact that the better educated a person is, the more likely they are to find a good-paying job that supports their family, and the less likely they will be to end up in prison or living off the taxpayers through government welfare.

So making sure that every child has the opportunity to be educated to their fullest potential is essential for the safety and economic security of us all. And we can’t educate every child to their fullest potential when we choose to abandon schools instead of fixing them.

Charter schools, then, are clearly not the answer. We all pay our taxes; therefore, all of our kids should receive a quality education.

Rep. Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.

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