Monday, November 30, 2009

Maine's Charter Schools

So, I'm on holiday in Florida, headed to the beach any minute, and my @AugustaInsider Twitter feed points out some editorials and recent columns about how our esteemed governor's refusal to allow charter schools in the state has kept us from receiving federal Race to the Top dollars and will keep other monies and advantages from Maine schools. This makes no sense to me, since we have the oldest charter schools in the country. We call them New England Academies.

When the legislaure began the charter school dust-up several months ago, I e-mailed some reporter friends and asked them to write a story and help me, and I'm sure other, to understand why Maine's handful of "private schools in the public interest" don't count as charter schools. Though I never saw a story, I figured there had to be an answer.

Now that I understand the consequences of the lack of charter school designation, I want that answer.

Seems to me that the "New England Academy" model represents precisely what charter schools are when they are run as they are supposed to be run. They typically have no unions and the best academic results in their areas. (Please note, these two facts are not necessarily consequent.)

Though I cannot find the reference in the Byzantine Department of Education website, I know that Maine law supports the private school systems that existed before the public system was instituted and allows them to maintain private boards, more autonomy in acceptance and expulsion policies, and administrative freedom unlike any public school in the country. Also, in towns without schools students may attend nearby schools, regardless of public, private or quasi-private status at the town's expense as long as the school is not religiously affiliated.

More on this later. If anyone has a clue before I get home to do more research, please help me out.


Derek said...

I listened to Ed Com Gendron speak at the recent Ed Committee meetings in November. She commented that charter schools were the least of our worries and that we had some schools that could qualify as "innovative", negating the need for charters. She may have been referring to the Academies. My mind is a little foggy. Matt Stone at the Kennebec Journal may have mentioned something about this in his Report Card.

I don't know much about New England Academies, but they don't sound like charter schools in the same sense. Charter schools are public schools. Though they are private in the sense that they are not beholden to the same rules as our public system, students are not accepted on the basis or whether or not they can pay or how many spots are open. In Maine, the charter system would accept all students who applied. If more students applied than spots that were available a lottery would say who would enter.

If by academies you a speaking of places like NYA and Fryeburg academy, they have a totally different admissions process. They involve recommendations, transcripts, interviews, much like college admissions. Though I believe residents near Fryeburg get a discount, students (or their parents I should say) foot the bill. Charters don't function in that way.

You should read the past bill and some of the articles I wrote at The Maine View. Arne Duncan has been rather specific as to what he means when he says charter schools. I doubt there is any way to squeeze our way out of this one.

Andrea said...

I thought we passed a charter school law a couple years

Andrea said...

And what about Maine Math & Science School?

Derek said...

Maine is one of 10 states without a charter law.

The Maine Math and Science School, as far as my knowledge goes, is similar to a charter program. Being a magnate type school is something I believe charters do well.

I really think the US Ed Dept. wants to see a charter law PERIOD.

It's Time to Talk said...

Like Derek says, schools like Fryeburg or Lincoln Academy don't really fit the criteria for charter schools. They are interesting and--for the most part--successful educational models but they are not charters.

I may be off base on this--I'm just reading the tea leaves from my armchair in Massachusetts-- but the argument could be that charters siphon off public monies that would support standard public schools already in existence.Innovation from within is seen as preferable to going down the charter road because public schools benefit all students rather than a distinct subset. Yes, change within historically rigid and intractable systems is often glacial but the remedy would be to encourage and reward innovation, not to divvy up an already stretched funding "pie" into ever more slices.

It's Time to Talk said...

Lee, this is an editorial in today's Boston Globe that focuses on the issue of charter school funding.