Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 21, 2013

Town must seize benefits of STEAM school

The Andover Townsman

---- — Editor, Townsman:

The proposed science/technology/math/arts charter public high school represents the most creative educational proposal for the children of Andover that my wife and I have heard put forward in the almost 30 years we have lived in Andover.

Not surprisingly, the defenders of special interests and the status quo in town object to this proposal. But the status quo is not serving the children of Andover well. The level of preparedness in mathematics, the sciences and the arts of even Andover’s top students has declined, as it has across the country, over the past generation. I have seen this decline in preparedness firsthand during a recent stint as visiting professor of mathematics at one of our nation’s most select post-secondary education institutions. The proposed STEAM charter public high school presents, by far, the best means to change that for the children of Andover.

To dispense with the myths, misinformation and spin being propagated:

1. A charter school is a public school, not a private school. The only difference between it and the rest of the public schools in a town is that parents control the charter school, not a political body, not the teachers union.

2. The town does not lose any money when it creates a charter public school. For students who choose to attend the charter public school, the tax dollars to cover the cost of educating them is redirected from the traditional public school, as it logically and rightly should. In fact, under Chapter 46 of MA state law, towns that set up charter schools get even more state aid, overall, than they would if they didn’t have a charter school. So with the proposed charter high school, Andover will see an increase in state aid, per student, compared to the status quo.

3. While the percentage of Andover High students who pass the MCAS exams is high, keep in mind that MCAS is a measure of minimum standards. It’s the lower bar on what we want kids to learn and not a measure of high levels of educational achievement.

The benefits of the proposed science/technology/arts high school are numerous. To cite just a few:

1. Students with an interest in the sciences/mathematics/technology/arts will have a school that offers a far more comprehensive educational program in those areas than they ever will have at a general-purpose high school.

2. The proposed charter high school will be able to attract world-class faculty in the sciences/mathematics/technology and the arts from the great colleges and universities that surround us to spend their sabbaticals teaching there. This is not possible at Andover High because the contract with the Andover teachers union bars hiring faculty who are not members of the teachers union. Even Albert Einstein, if he were alive today, would get barred from teaching physics at Andover High because of the contract.

3. Having a charter public high school in town specializing in the sciences/math/technology and the arts will not only better prepare students in those areas than Andover High can, but it will improve the quality of education in Andover as well. Choice and competition always produce improvements in products and services.

During the 1930s, Mayor Laguardia of New York City had a vision for dramatically improving the quality of education for his city’s students by creating that era’s version of two specialty charter high schools: the High School of Music and Arts and the Bronx High School of Science. These two schools have produced a who’s who of hundreds of the greatest American scientists and artists in all walks of the performing arts, with eight graduates from the Bronx High School of Science going on to receive Nobel Prizes in the sciences.

The proposed STEAM public high school has the potential to become, for our community, the equivalent of the Bronx High School of Science. My children would have seized the opportunity to attend a STEAM charter public school had one been here when they were of high school age. I’d like to see my grandchildren provided this great public educational opportunity.

Bob Pokress

3 Cherrywood Circle