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The overwhelming case for ‛aided’ schools

Dear Sir,

During a recent interview with The Royal Gazette, the Minister of Education’s statement regarding “aided schools” in our public-education system took me by surprise.

Mr Rabain said: “One of the cons about them is because they have the autonomy to hire, they will poach good teachers — we want all of our schools to have good teachers.”

I posted my reaction on social media:

Whitney Institute is one of the island’s more established aided schools (File photograph)

“That's a con? Should we not be having all schools hire ‛good teachers’? The number of US charter schools allowed in some states — schools which have such hiring/administrative autonomy — are being ‛limited’ in numbers by bureaucrats. Why? Because of their good results and thus being competition for public schools ... what a convoluted argument this is ...”

Mr Rabain responded:

“Try to ignore people like Connell who have zero desire to see our public education succeed.”

Mr Rabain then responded (to another poster):

“I don’t take the comments personally ... it is healthy to be able to discuss”.

Yes, Minister, it is.

So I will assume that our Minister of Education is aware that, at present, charter schools are among the best schools in New York State. Again. According to the most recent data from School Digger, a website that aggregates test-score results, 23 of the leading 30 schools in New York in 2019 were charters.

The feat is all the more impressive because those schools had student bodies that were more than 80 per cent Black and Hispanic, and some two-thirds of the children were from low-income families and qualified for free or discount lunches.

New York’s results were also reflected nationally. In a US News & World Report ranking also released the same year, three of the top ten public high schools in the country were charters, as were 23 of the top 100, even though charters made up only 10 per cent of the nation’s 24,000 public high schools. The demand for charter schools continues to grow by evidence of thousands of children who are on waiting lists.

Flimsy arguments continue against the existence of US charter schools — and the associated resistance by unions — and we see powerful bureaucrats and teachers unions making progress in blocking the numbers/locations of where these schools are allowed to operate. The argument that “they get to pick the best students” can be refuted by the fact that the lottery system is being used for student selection/admittance in almost all states. The argument that “they will poach good teachers”? Well, realistically, I think we must correctly substitute the word “hire” for “poach” and then that argument dissolves.

It has never been more evident that politics must be taken out of the decision making in public-education reform in order for “best practice” to have a chance of succeeding. The formation of an independent education authority is something that can facilitate that process, and I was encouraged to hear the minister say that the team already tasked with the creation of the proposed authority was also exploring the prospect of whether some schools could become aided with government funding but having more autonomy, including the ability to hire their own staff.

I realise that there is no “one size fits all” in education, but if parents have choices for their children’s education, it can be only a win/win — and charter schools present a compelling case for additional competition in education. Parents with financial means have always had choices. Unfortunately, for many others, the lack of options often limits the students who need it most.

I will say that I do not doubt the minister’s commitment to reforming our public-education system. It is a massive undertaking and long overdue, but you will remember that it was the same massive undertaking in 2010 when the Progressive Labour Party administration of the day rolled out its “Blueprint for Reform in Education”. The education minister then, El James, wrote: “The Hopkins Review of public education in 2007 made clear that we were not offering our young people a good enough springboard into the world. Concerns have been raised, rightly, about standards that our young people achieve and their ability to compete in the global market for both work and further-education opportunities.”

Eleven years and two administrations later, very little has changed with regard to overall student outcomes and, once again, we watch another administration roll out its master plan for “real” education reform.

Thomas Sowell’s recent book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies, clearly shows that there are many who wish to dismantle the success of these institutions in the United States. Sadly, it appears that mediocrity is becoming the new standard of excellence.

I hesitate to guess which standard our children will get. Mediocrity or excellence?

BEVERLEY CONNELL

Pembroke

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Published February 17, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated February 16, 2021 at 12:16 pm)

The overwhelming case for ‛aided’ schools

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