False Comparisons

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By: Letter To Editor
Published: 07/20/12

Although I am not exactly sure of the point of the two-part series about Sturgis Charter Public School—whether to provide information about a school so that parents can make considered decisions or to simply highlight a successful charter school—I feel compelled to respond because it certainly left the impression through its statistical charts and comparisons that you are comparing apples-to-apples. You are not. In addition, various anecdotal comments seem to imply that Sturgis has found the "magic bullet" to cure the ills of a traditional public school education whether through its innovative curriculum, lack of a teachers' union and/or methods for motivating students.

Although the articles state that the Sturgis lottery is random, we do know Sturgis does not attract the number of low-income or special needs students that the public schools are responsible for and that 30 to 40 percent of the slots are already allocated to siblings. So, comparing the Sturgis Charter population to the entire traditional school population does not represent a true comparison when measured by the SAT or any other student achievement measure. A more appropriate statistical comparison would be each district's AP/college track population and the Sturgis population.

Furthermore, the article chooses to make use of a quote that is common in the charter school debate and feeds a growing predisposition—blame the teachers' union. One parent may "think" that having a non-union teacher base makes a huge difference, but the article fails to note the fact that Massachusetts has a highly unionized teacher population and it scores highest in the national exams. And, as for a "waiting list" for teachers wanting to work at Sturgis, I would venture to guess that even public schools have essentially a waiting list if you count the applications for any available teaching slot.

However, the biggest lost opportunity in the article is to provide some real insight for parents and possibly, even the traditional public schools, about actual teaching methods, or strategies employed and/or encouraged at Sturgis. We learn nothing about what is done in the classrooms and how those approaches may be different than what is done in other public schools. What we do know is that they have highly motivated students, with eager parents, and a focused academic program. These factors lead to respectable test results. What else would one expect?

But, in the end, even Mr. Hieser acknowledges the fundamental difference between Sturgis and the traditional public schools "...because we are a small school, it can be done. If we were larger or had a different demographic, we would have to do it differently." So, I am not writing to dismiss or discount Sturgis's success for educating and preparing its students; my exception is that articles like these provide false comparisons while distracting from the larger, more important debate about the long-term effects of segregating school populations.

Beth A. Underhill

Brush Hill Circle

East Falmouth

This letter was originally published in The Enterprise on July 6, 2012.

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