The Key West Mystique

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The education hoax: A pox on charter schools

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

03/25/2014

We hate children. Oh, stop the breathless denials and heart-tugging, oh-to-the-contrary protestations. We hate our children because we flat out refuse to support public schools.

The United States spends $500 billion a year on public kindergarten through twelfth grade. We spend $716 billion a year on military defense — and that’s after the sequestration and budgeted reductions. The spending discrepancy is proof enough that we are happier spending cash on guns than on kids, but even that pales against the determination to castrate our public school systems with the charter school hoax.

And, bless it’s stingy heart, the Florida legislature is more determined than most to siphon cash from its public schools into a massive build out of charters — with no commensurate demand for accountability.

The latest attempt has been pulled from consideration for the moment, thanks in great measure to the Florida Teachers Association, the League of Women Voters, several local PTAs, the Anti-Defamation League and a handful of legislators. Make no mistake though, the public school haters will return to the trough.

I ought to get a handful of disclaimers on the table before I rant on. I don’t hold much truck with the bureaucratic, hide-bound unions that protect aging boomers who ought not be teachers anymore and make it difficult-to-impossible to innovate in a classroom.

I’m horrified at the conditions under which teachers teach and equally distressed with the physical facilities. I’m mystified by block-headed administrators and taxpayers who somehow think children, schools and the world were oh-so-perfect back in the 1950s, and if only we magically could get parents involved all would be well with the world.

Oh, get over it. We’ve got what we’ve got. Time to stop pining for what isn’t going to happen (and never did). If we really loved our kids, we’d fix public education as quickly as we mobilize for invading the the Afghanistans and Iraqs.

Charter schools are not the solution. We are wasting time, money, resources, and more to the point, we are wasting another generation of Americans.

My initial introduction to charter schools was a decade ago when Rockford, IL, began its charter explorations. Those folks spent many hours trying to convince me and other editorial board members of the righteousness of their cause.

Didn’t make sense to me then. Doesn’t now. How can otherwise sane and sensible people believe that taking money from public schools, funneling it into charters and abandoning accountability improve education?

We could prove we love our children and fix public school education in a decade if we really wanted to, which, of course, we don’t. Nevertheless, what if our public schools looked like this:

  • School days run year-round, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with appropriate day care and homework tutors at either end; two meals and a snack; clean clothes guaranteed; and, a sixth and seventh day optional for kids whose parents work weekends;
  • School starts at two years old. Half day, for sure, and a full day for those whose adult guardians can’t do the morning or afternoon “shift”;
  • Fix the physical facilities. Bulldoze and build. Every classroom is wired and every student has today’s tools, not yesterday’s;
  • Every classroom has a teacher who teaches (and gets regular supervision). And, every classroom teacher gets three, full-time, professional assistants. One as executive director of all things paperwork, technological and administrative. One for cuddling, counseling and communicating. One to change the diapers, stop the fights, confiscate the guns and knives, call the cops, run the errands, make the copies and keep things running smoothly.
  • Finally, let’s double (I’d recommend triple, but you’ll never go for that, I’m sure) the pay of every single person employed in a school system — and then get rid of those who aren’t worth it.

When we done all that, we can say we love our kids. Not now. Now our actions belie the words. We really do hate our kids.

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, a project management company. She lives in Key West and once was a student teacher in public schools. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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