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Charter schools: Not a cure-all, but a sign of health

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on July 28, 2012 at 7:16 pm with 6 Comments »
July 27, 2012 2:19 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Other education reforms are more urgent than charter schools. Washington could have a fantastic public school system without them.

But we don’t have a fantastic system, and one of the reasons is a reactionary K-12 establishment that can be counted on to resist efforts to bring rigorous standards and greater accountability to public education.

Charter schools aren’t a magic cure for all that ails the schools, but the fact that they are prohibited here –­ while allowed in the vast majority of other states – is another symptom of the backwardness of “progressive” Washington.

Initiative 1240, which would legalize charters in Washington for the first time, has just officially qualified for the ballot. The usual suspects are lining up against it, notably the Washington Education Association – which tore into the measure like a pit bull the moment it got traction.

The WEA’s mother organization, the National Education Association, takes a more nuanced position on charter schools. Here’s a line from its position paper:

“NEA believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children.”

The NEA does qualify this endorsement. It ’s a labor organization, and its job is not to shrink its local affiliates. It more or less insists that charter school faculty be unionized – “subject to the same public sector labor relations statues as traditional public schools.”

Still, the NEA makes the case for charters as eloquently as their advocates do. Though many of these nontraditional schools have performed poorly, many others have done a superb job – and the good ones in urban districts have proven especially adept at teaching disadvantaged low-income and minority students. They do develop new ways to reach struggling students, and traditional schools can profit from them.

As for the bad ones, charters can be revoked. The public can easily pull the plug on a failing charter school. It’s hard to even find the plug on a failing conventional school.

The most disturbing argument against charter schools in Washington is the claim that this state’s public schools are doing fine without them. Hello? In many districts – emphatically including Tacoma Public Schools – our students are not doing just fine.

In Tacoma, the dropout race is catastrophic among blacks, Latinos and children of low income. If you factor in the academic deficiencies of those who do graduate and the sheer loss of life potential, it amounts to a massive social tragedy.

In an emergency this grave, serious people will grab every tool in sight to turn things around. Washington should be frantically improving its schools of education, recruiting and rewarding the most talented teachers, identifying and helping struggling teachers, ratcheting up academic expectations, relentlessly tracking the performance of individual students, and adopting objectively proven best practices for effective teaching.

The most important reforms can be achieved without charter schools – but charters are an indicator that education leaders are willing to do whatever it takes, willing to pull every lever within reach. A state that forbids the opening of even a single one is a state that’s way too comfortable with an intolerable status quo.

Leave a comment Comments → 6
  1. This editorial is incredibly wrong and what is really amazing is that they don’t realize it.
    Charter schools are a pie-in-the-sky solution to problems they cannot solve. Instead, they make things worse.
    One should rely on people who know what they are talking about and I rely on Diane Ravitch among others. She is an expert and her arguments are unassailable from what I have read.
    It is a sorry state when the editorial staff writes nonsense like this.

  2. mahinaokeiki says:

    Thank you to the TNT editorial staff for taking a predictable position on an issue that you know so little about. The most extensive study ever on charter schools determined that only 17% of the students in charter schools do better while 37% do WORSE in charter schools (when compared to neighboring schools). That means you would want 17% to do better while you want 37% to do worse. It’s okay to sacrifice the school experience of 37% to help the 17%. The initiative is for students who can get to those schools. If a charter school is set up near you, if your child is selected by lottery, and if you have the ability to drive your child to and from the school,then you can take advantage of this. Who drives their children to and from a school of choice? The most involved parents, the parents who are most able to provide for their children. I don’t think we’re talking about the students who you view as underserved by public schools. When charter schools move into your city, expect them to draw students away from neighborhood schools. Lower enrollment schools are more expensive to run. This will place neighborhood schools at risk of closure. I think we want stronger neighborhoods, not schools full of kids with poor parental involvement. Had Washington’s schools been adequately funded over the past 30 years, and if NCLB hadn’t mislabeled schools as “failures,” our public schools would be viewed very differently today. Instead, the media and millionaires who send their kids to private schools will tell the community how charters might rescue the poor students from the so-called horrible schools. When, in fact, the public schools could use some help with providing focused resources to students who live in poverty. Most troubling, the number of people who think that a charter school option is great for ‘their children’ because it will help them get away from all those problem children who are such a distraction. This is just another way to create a segregated educational experience for children. I really don’t want the Walmart corporation charter school to tell families that they have to go to Walmart to buy their school uniforms. Say NO to Big Box education. Or maybe Bill Gates & friends could help the public schools that have so many children living in poverty. No, that won’t happen because this is about privatizers getting more of the taxpayers’ money.

  3. pumpkinbread says:

    The blunderbuss approach to policy,described in the editorial, is very popular right now. Fund a range of possible solutions, even the bad ones, but not enough to accomplish any particular goal. If charter schools are not a proven method why risk limited resources?
    I always wonder when someone says “If charters fail, we can just closed them down.” This misses the fact that kids and communities are hurt by school closures. Washingtonians will suffer if charters do as poorly here as they do elsewhere. I would be careful about using the “failure” argument because this also hurts our kids. Really, when we say our schools are failing, we’re telling our kids that they are failures. The real failure here is No Child Left Behind. There isn’t a soul left in Washington DC who doesn’t recognize that the method by which we measure our kids and schools is a failed method. And the main risk factor for not graduating is poverty. I hope we start supporting families so that kids who are struggling can focus on learning rather than where the next meal is coming from.

  4. Really News Tribune? Tacoma just got designated as the first Innovative School Zone in the state and you tell us we need charters? Shame on you!
    Did you know that I-1240 allows conversion charters? Any school, and it can be a great school, can be converted to a charter school if 51% of the parents OR teachers sign a petition to do so. That is not right.
    mahinaokeiki is right on. Parents who can manage do drive their kids to a better school, or one they like better, will be the ones to drive their kids to a charter school, not the kids whose parents can’t or won’t drive them now. Also, are you aware that the NAACP is against charters?
    I am a parent, not a teacher and I am against I-1240. Washington does not charter schools.

  5. It is sad and shows a disturbing lack of integrity when the TNT editorial board doesn’t think for itself, but instead rewrites The Washington Policy Center’s opinions and passes them off as their own. At least give Liv Finne her credit due.

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