Retain the existing cap on charter schools

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As a realist, Gov. Paul LePage probably knows legislation to eliminate the cap on creating new charter schools is likely doomed in a Democratic Legislature.

But we would hope many Republican legislators also agree that lifting the cap after a single year, and before the cap has even been reached, is totally premature.

Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin confirmed Sunday that the governor is determined to abolish the 10-school limit set by the state’s new charter-school law.

Opponents of charter schools argue that the schools pull money away from traditional public schools. 

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That’s a concern, but if we saw stronger evidence that charter schools produce better-educated students, then that would be a sacrifice worth making.

But two decades after the charter-school movement began in Minnesota, the evidence of their effectiveness is muddled at best.

Some charter schools do seem to produce better results, some have worse results and most have about the same results as public schools.

Some research shows that charter schools do the best in large, urban school systems. They have been less successful in small, rural school districts of the type found in Maine.

The most successful charter schools have longer school years and rigid discipline. Which raises the question of why more than a handful of public schools in Maine aren’t taking the obvious steps of adding instruction days if they truly want to improve education.

While many critics like to blame teachers and administrators for the lackluster performance of U.S. public schools, we have always felt that weak student and parental motivation is the bigger culprit.

We can all think of families that have three or four children, all of whom become top students. Then, of course, there are families that have trouble even getting their children to school on a regular basis.

Most advanced countries have educational systems that resemble our own with traditional style teachers and classrooms full of students.

Many of those foreign schools have larger classes and less comfortable schools, yet their top students regularly outperform U.S. students in international testing.

It’s not charter schools that set them apart, nor technology or even more highly trained teachers.

Nearly all of them have longer school years plus, we suspect, more highly motivated parents and students.

In Japan, parents sometimes attend school with their student, help with homework and even hire tutors to help their child keep up.

Parents set high expectations for their children and there is often relentless pressure to meet those expectations. Sports and other activities take a back seat to a successful education, and hours of homework are par for the course.

Students fully appreciate that their key to success in life depends upon getting as much education as possible.

In November, U.S. students were ranked 17th in the developed world based upon a series of measures including test scores and graduation rates.

Finland and South Korea topped the list of 40 nations with the best education systems, followed by Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

Researchers explained that the nations with the best educational systems offer teachers higher status and have a culture that emphasizes education.

Does that sound like our culture?

Charter schools may be a solution for some students and some families in Maine.

But before we lift the current cap, let’s see if the first ten prove their worth.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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