Our Opinion: Charters, traditional schools should share ideas

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Charter schools have had a historically rocky relationship with traditional public school districts, based on the fact that students — when they opt for the charters — take their individual public education funding with them to their new school. As charter schools grow, districts that have fixed overhead costs like electric bills, teacher salaries and building maintenance find themselves strapped to meet even the most basic obligations of keeping their doors open.

On the plus side, charter schools are freer to innovate and experiment with teaching methodologies, programs, philosophies and metrics, and to concentrate specialized curricula, such as science and the arts. If charter schools are a laboratory for new ideas, which is one of several arguments for their existence, ideas proven successful can be shared with conventional schools to improve educational effectiveness overall.

The Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School (BART) in Adams just announced that it has been the recipient of a grant from the Massachusetts Dissemination Program — which is funded through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education — to share what it has learned with the North Adams and Adams-Cheshire school districts (Eagle, July 31.) Such findings include better ways to measure student performance and continuously improve learning among middle school students, according to Jay White, BART's executive director.

Seven schools throughout the state have been awarded the two-year grants designed to open lines of communication between charter schools and their districts. While the program is not going to make charter and traditional school advocates sit around a fire and sing Kumbaya, it might go a long way toward taking the edge off the enmity and estrangement that has long existed between them.

While this kind of program is welcome and the grant dollars assuredly well spent, it does not obviate the need to address a more overarching educational imperative, that being increased per-student funding for public schools in general. Yes, money is tight, but education spending constitutes an investment in the present and future.

The Eagle has long advocated for more education spending, in particular at the state level as many local communities are financially strapped. Better educated students constitute a more capable labor force, which attracts more businesses that provide jobs and pay more taxes which adds a level of stability to our community — and the cycle continues to sustain itself.

There would be no reason for any friction between charter schools and traditional public schools if there were ample funding for both. Were that to be the case, charter schools — which were originally conceived as a desperation move to offer parents an alternative to being forced to send their children to under-performing school districts — would truly be just one among several good choices. The Massachusetts Dissemination Program is a promising first step in the direction of helping to improve the quality of education for all students, but there is no substitute for adequate educational funding overall.


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