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Study This!

I had no idea that Connecticut’s urban public school systems rank dead last in the country. The state’s performance is masked due to the many excellent schools in our mostly white suburban towns.

I may have the opportunity to help an educational reform group and so I’m doing research to get up to speed. There are many common misconceptions. Perhaps the worst of the lot: kids from bad neighborhoods can’t be expected to learn the way kids in towns like Westport do because their home life is messed up.

A variation of this myth: Teachers can’t be expected to deliver results when kids don’t get support at home.

Several Charter Schools in the inner city are proving both of these views wrong.

I visited one in Bridgeport and witnessed a remarkable environment for learning. Recent test scores outperformed neighboring Fairfield.

Contrary to what some believe, Charter schools do not skim the cream of a bad neighborhood, a lottery system determines students. These high performing urban kids face the same family and economic challenges that their public school counterparts do—the performance difference is due to the system, the teachers, the culture.

Another common misconception: Charter Schools are for-profit organizations. In Connecticut, Charter Schools must be not-for-profits.

Charter Schools are, however, proof points that kids at the bottom of the economic barrel can excel in school. Consider the possibilities for our communities and hiring organizations in the public and private sectors if the bulk of the next generation of urban children became scientists, software engineers, and teachers, instead of dropouts.

Public Schools can’t change overnight, but there is common ground and low hanging fruit—ideas, concepts, and approaches that are working in Charter urban schools that the Public system could adopt immediately without any loss of face or political power; for little money too.

But nobody trusts anybody and so these Charter schools operate like an island, cut off from the mainland. There are exceptions and some public schools are adopting elements of what is working in their Charter neighbors, but less than 2% of Connecticut’s students are in Charter schools. Kids need help now.

At the end of the day we all have to stay focused on what’s best for the children, easy to say, hard to do.

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