Letter: Give students and parents another choice in schools

Posted 8/6/20

Yes, there are many ways to deliver quality education, as Barbara Byrnes Robinson writes in last week’s Phoenix. After teaching English some 20 years in the private sector, my last 13 years …

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Letter: Give students and parents another choice in schools

Posted

Yes, there are many ways to deliver quality education, as Barbara Byrnes Robinson writes in last week’s Phoenix. After teaching English some 20 years in the private sector, my last 13 years were at public schools on Hartford Avenue in Providence, where I learned what works and what doesn’t.

I learned the war on charters is unjustified. The truth is that Bristol Warren Regional Schools (BWRSD) are not apples and oranges in comparison, and much of the success of Achievement First (AF) charter can work in Bristol.

While the preoccupation with data and testing is annoying, scores matter (see Gina Macdonald's letter, July 23), and they answer how our students stand next to AF and other schools around the state, since all students take the same RICAS test.

To put those answers to work, and to share the best practices of AF, we might consider using the AF curriculum at a middle school here. AF administrators tell me their curriculum is available for the asking. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Substantial reform in public education does not come easily, especially to districts entrenched in the status quo. But to affect any change, I’m convinced public schools need the healthy competition of charters nipping at their heels.

The direction public schools are heading is worrisome. Disruptive students are accommodated with restorative justice, while serious and well behaved students are disregarded as “collateral damage.”

Meanwhile, students beg us adults to set standards with consequences that students understand. They want a school where they feel safe and where rigorous learning is respected. Look closer at last year’s teacher “sick out” at Kickemuit Middle School in Warren for this recurrent phenomenon.

Public schools have similarly lowered academic standards, including the teaching of grammar and composition. The knowledge of sentence and paragraph is still needed to move on to college or achieve success today. Too many low performing students drop out of college because they lack these skills. Schools should double down on reading and writing, not regard it as elitist or outdated.

Public schools blame charters for financial losses, but they are excessively overplayed. Yes, charters take away concerned parents and better students because they value academic excellence, longer hours of hard work, good student behavior and parent involvement. I observed less value on these standards in public schools.

While admission by lottery can be problematic, the “lottery” that Bristol’s zip code provides is a luxury urban kids don’t have. Charters may have more flexibility shaping rules for student behavior, but AF will tell you their students are neatly dressed, well behaved and rarely — if ever — dismissed.

The tragedy of the war on charters is that kids are denied a choice while adults and special interests fight to preserve an “evergreen” teacher contract.

When the dust settles on Covid, and while public schools continue to self-reform at a snail’s pace, give students and parents another choice … and maybe provide a new choice here. The results might surprise us.

DeWolf Fulton
Bristol

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.