Monday, May 7, 2012

National Charter Schools Week

Charter schools have been a fundamental force in education reform, especially in the last decade or so, and there is really no good argument against the model and its ability to effect change in many communities.  Thus, we should definitely take note of the rise of charter schools and praise the positive changes they have wrought.  And, of course there is no better time for a post on charter schools than this week which apparently - as I learned from Jay Greene's blog - has been named National Charter Schools Week.  This celebratory week is brought to us by the National Alliance for Public charter schools.  Of course, Jay Greene and the National Alliance clearly have a strong preference for charters, and many will criticize them for that bias.  However, the research on the success of charter schools - predominantly in urban areas - should not be discounted.  For, as always in a teacher's view, the point should be that "whatever works" is good policy.

Certainly, the randomized control trials (RCTs) have been quite revelatory in the benefits of charter schools, and they offer evidence to counter criticism of charters only succeeding by cherry-picking the best students.  Yet, that doesn't mean that charters don't continue to act and succeed based on the choices of motivated students.  That is, without doubt, the norm.  And there has been no example of a charter model being effectively applied to a neighborhood school whose students did not opt in to the model.  And, the case of Cole Middle School in Denver exemplifies the failure that results when that is attempted.  Despite the success of KIPP charters nationwide, the KIPP leaders and model failed when they were contracted to simply implement it in Cole.  And KIPP eventually backed out of Cole when the neighborhood rejected the model.  And, reform advocates must not discount the reality that only 20% of charters actually outperform neighborhood schools, while 20% perform worse.

However, the charter model has great value for the entire educational system.  A teacher's view of charters would simply evaluate the effectiveness and commit to the idea whenever applicable.  If a charter model is doing well, it should be expanded.  If hundreds of students more than a charter's capacity commit to it, then districts should simply find a way to let them in.   Let the kids go where they want, and open the model in a new building - even in a school-within-a-school model if necessary.  Just allow the opportunity to succeed.  There's no argument against that.

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