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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Education or Educational Bureaucracy? The Bureaucrats Win

Thanks to Betsy's Page, who references Katie, who in turn cites Ryan Sager's blog which references Sager's column in The New York Post (WHEW! out of breath just doing courtesies in that one!)

A pastor in upstate New York was driven to start a charter school due to the abysmal educational status of many adult parishioners....

"The tragedy is this," says Hague. "In my church, I have apologized to young adults and middle-aged adults, people who used to be called Generation X . . . They sit in my pews in my Bible class, and they cannot read."

"And now their children are a second generation of failure," he says.

"I have a young girl that is nine years old," he recounts. "We gave her a part in the Easter pageant, she memorized her lines perfectly, she sings in our children's choir . . . And she's repeated first grade three times."

There is another boy, he says, who was inducted into the National Honor Society last year. Now he's struggling with English, but his school is offering him no help.

That's why Hague has put together his plan for the Niagara Charter School — which the state Department of Education is recommending strongly for approval. There, he would offer kids an extended school day (nine hours) and year (200 days), he would put the kids in uniforms and he would drill them relentlessly on the basics — all of the elements that have proven successful in other charter schools around the country."

Parents were thrilled, but the local teachers union was infuriated, aghast, and motivated to wage what amounts to a bureaucratic war.

* On Monday, Hague sent a letter to the Regents alleging that "threats have been made to the livelihood of several initial board members" of the proposed school. The culprit, says Hague, is the superintendent of the Niagara Falls City school district, Carmen Granto (who denies this charge). So far, three members of the board have resigned, one an architect who had business with the city and one a public school teacher.

* Parents have also been discouraged in various ways from showing support for the school. According to Hague and people who gathered signatures in support of the school, parents were terrified to sign petitions lest the district "blackball" their children.

Meanwhile, the Niagara Falls Teachers Union gathered thousands of signatures opposing the new charter — calling parents, making sure every teacher had signed and even keeping schools open late (something they're reluctant to do when it comes to giving kids extra instruction time).

"I've had people come up to me and tell me, 'Pastor, this isn't personal. I have to because of my job'," says Hague.

* Lastly, the political powers-that-be in Albany — mainly Niagara's Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, let the chancellor of the state Board of Regents, Robert Bennett (who also represents the Niagara area), know that he'd better toe the line. His term as a Regent is up in 2005, and his road to reappointment goes through Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver.

So, the school was denied charter last week. I suppose someone considers themselves winners in this "fight." It is always the kids who lose.

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