As much as I applaud our Governor's administration for its efforts to address issues of accountability and the quality of instruction, I remain adament that nothing they do will improve the learning outcomes of our inner city students until we accept the reality that fundamental differences exist between urban and suburban schools, and that unique policies must be constructed for each in the areas of curriculum and assessment.
Charter schools have been an enduring feature of our education landscape, but as of yet their presence has done little to improve student performance. This is not to say that there haven't been some successes in a few charter schools, but that really isn't the point. The intent of the original charter school legislation was not to create schools that would compete with public schools, but to create schools that would serve as "laboratories for innovation," places where new strategies and policies would be instituted and evaluated. Alone, no amount of charter schools will make a dent in the performance of the general student population, and wasn't that the point?
What we need in New Jersey is a committment to the idea that our charter schools and urban public schools are in essence a partnership, and that it is incumbent on our leaders to create a system to facillitate greater communication between these schools. Whether on a state wide, regional, or city wide level, it is imperative that our administrators and teachers get together to share "what works" with their colleagues at other schools.
Success in the classroom is mainly the result of trial and error. When methods work, that knowledge should be shared. It would distressing to find that teachers and administrators are so territorial and so protective of their successes that they are reluctant to share their work with others. I call on the State Department of Education to take the lead on this issue and bring together representatives of our charter and urban schools to spend a few days each year communicating their successes and failures with one another. This collaborative approach to learning will directly benefit students who otherwise might not ever be exposed to strategies that will improve the teaching of content and skills.
If we really care about providing a quality education to as many students as possible, and not just to a few select families, then we must honor the original intent of our charter school legislation and work together for the good of the children. And isn't that what we all really want anyway?