Glass-Housed Critics of Charter Schools Should Check their Stones at the Door

It hasn’t been a very good few weeks for charter public schools in Connecticut or across the country. Charges of embezzlement and other wrongdoing are getting a lot of attention and rightly so. This includes the mind-boggling case of the FUSE charter school group that seemed to take “has done time” as a positive résumé line. Yet as critics of charter schools are quick to point the finger, they’d be best to police their own traditional public school system that sometimes employs cheaters, abusers and worse.

There is absolutely no excuse for the exploits of FUSE which has led to a scramble by officials in both Hartford and New Haven. Wonderful Hartford Courant columnist Colin McEnroe does a good job pointing out the problems charter schools have faced in the US; problems that need fixing and that should lead to substantial changes in charter school laws.

But throwing the charter school baby out with the dirty bathwater is not the answer. Time and time again The Shad has pointed out that what matters most in any debate about public schools—charter or traditional—is the welfare and success of the students. A cursory review of problems in traditional public schools show they dwarf the financial misdoings going on in some charters.

Let’s start with the illustrious teacher Michael Luecke. The Stamford Public School’s great background check system allowed Mr. Luecke to be hired as a substitute teacher back in March. He was subsequently caught and arrested for, how shall we say, “hitch-hikin’ to heaven” while watching some of the students. Gah-ross.

Please understand that none of the following is designed to disparage the excellent, hard-working, future-shaping, hero teachers in Connecticut or the nation. But across the country, cases of inappropriate behavior or outright sexual abuse by public school officials are too numerous to recount. Here’s a sampling:
• A Maryland public school employee who sent love letters to an 8-year old student and was subsequently convicted of sexual abuse
• The Jacksonville, Fla. “Teacher of the Year” who was fired for molesting a student
• The Cambridge, Mass. elementary school teacher facing child porn charges
• A female Somerville, Mass. 5th grade teacher arrested on rape charges
• The Lakeland, Fla. teachers’ aide who was charged with paying students for sex
• The Northridge High School drama teacher who has a sexual relationship with a 17-year old student.

The list goes on and on.

There also seems to be a plethora of public school officials who can’t help, for one reason or another, cheating on school tests. There’s the infamous test cheating scandal in Waterbury that rocked that city’s schools (the anti-school reform people will probably blame this on the fact that there was a test to cheat on in the first place).

Here’s a nationwide sampling of this problem:
• In the most wide-ranging cheating scandal in modern history, 35 educators in Atlanta were indicted. The scandal encompassed 58 schools.
• Two months ago, a principal and four teachers were charged in a test-cheating scandal in Philadelphia.
• Also in May, a cheating scandal erupted in the Houston School system.
• Just Monday, there were charges of not only test cheating but a cover-up in Kentucky.
Again, the list is too long to include it all here.

The point here is that wrongdoing at any charter public school should be rooted out and those involved punished. The same is true of traditional public schools. The students must come first. Period.