Charter schools succeed in NH
Decades of intense effort to improve K-12 education have given us continuously increasing property taxes and wave after wave of top-down federal reforms imposed on the states and school districts. But far too many of New Hampshire’s children are still not reaching their full potential. That’s why I wrote and championed passage of New Hampshire’s charter school law in 1995, during my time in the state senate.
Despite continuing resistance by teachers unions, the education establishment, and our new state Board of Education member, William Duncan, New Hampshire now has 22 approved and operating charter schools.
I have just finished a tour of more than half of them and am moved to awe by the results, the intensity of community and volunteer support, the passionate engagement by teachers and school leaders and the demand by parents for more charter schools. New Hampshire’s charter schools are doing what top-down reform efforts have failed to do: Turn thousands of New Hampshire students’ lives around, boost educational outcomes and address taxpayer concerns by operating at one-third to one-half the cost of traditional public schools.
While charter school teachers are free to unionize, teachers there do not want unions and their rigid work rules because charter school teachers have autonomy in their classrooms. Teachers are respected as full professionals and are guided not by bureaucratic rules, but by each charter school’s unique mission. Parents hold charter schools accountable for results because parents are free to choose whether to send their children to these schools. Tax money to pay tuition follows each student. Where there are charter school choices, parents who cannot afford a private school are no longer compelled to move to a new school district if their children are not thriving.
At each charter school I visited, I had the opportunity to have a frank conversation with students. I asked students how they contrast their charter school with the traditional public school that most had previously attended. They spoke of their enthusiasm for learning and the prompt availability of individualized help from teachers, individualized curriculum and higher expectations.
At least half of these students reported having been bullied at their former school, a nearly non-existent problem at charter schools. Why, I asked. Charters are typically smaller and teachers and school leaders foster a loving, supportive, and disciplined learning and social community where precursor behavior to bullying is immediately seen and circumstances resolved.
The Academy for Science and Design in Nashua is New Hampshire’s largest charter school with about 450 students. ASD is a STEM school (science, technology, engineering and math) and, like most charters, has no auditorium or playing fields and operates in a converted factory. Some of its curriculum is delivered online or via computer and needed books are purchased used on EBay. All graduating seniors complete calculus. Yes, ASD, like all New Hampshire charter schools, accepts special needs students and ASD is New Hampshire’s top testing school.
Strong Foundations Charter School is a K-8 school in Pembroke offering an intense focus on reading, writing, and literacy. Of the 8th-graders having attended Strong Foundations for eight years, an amazing 90 percent test proficient and above in literacy – tops in the state.
CSI Charter School in Penacook serves high-school-age students who have dropped out or face challenging life circumstances. All teachers at CSI work part time and would otherwise be retired. The computer based curriculum is completely individualized, with a teacher always at hand to provide help or coaching.
North Country Charter Academy is a multi-district sponsored school serving at-risk and drop-out students from the northern third of our state. It also uses computer-based instruction. Students rise to the work-like classroom environment and are held to strict attendance requirements. Once again, student after student told me stories of how NCCA helped them reach academic success and turn their lives around.
Back in 1995, to secure passage of my charter school bill, I needed to explain the then-new concept to constituents and to my peers in the Legislature. I overcame fierce resistance from the education establishment and the unions. But I persevered, and the state Senate voted 20 to 4 for my bill. Among the four voting no: Then-state Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Today, we must end business as usual, stuck-in-the-mud establishment politics in Washington. It’s time to end the excuses and address the nation’s critical challenges in jobs, our stagnant economy and spiraling debt. We will get this done when we elect more U.S. senators with the bravery and clearheadedness it takes to champion bold solutions. You can see mine on my website, JimRubens.com.
Jim Rubens, of Hanover, is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.