Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Charter conversations heating up . . .

I know that I said I would change my focus to the proposed legislation around evaluations, but the recent blog posts on charters deserve a mention and link. Lisa Macfarlane, Washington State Director of Democrats for Education Reform shares what she sees as a significant change for some democratic legislators.

New flash to the haters: There are many Democrats who support charter schools. Our country's top Democrat, Barack Obama, the man we all fought to elect, is a big charter school fan. He believes in the ability of successful charter schools to help some of our most educationally disadvantaged kids.

In the post she shares a rationale for charters and why this is the time. Once again the achievement gap is providing significant leverage for this push by a bipartisan group of legislators. She also uses as leverage the state PTA’s support that emerged in their fall legislative assembly vote.

What great charter schools have in common is a relentless focus on high student achievement for a group of kids that the traditional system has failed, and their results are making urban educators and policy makers take notice.

What concerns me is that this is taking place with the significant budget issues our legislators face while there are still many questions about the effectiveness of charters. In this Washington Post article there is a link to a study published in the journal Science that suggests that most of the research on charters has been conducted with methods that “tell us little about causal effects.”

They wrote in their study, “Better Research Needed on the Impact of Charter Schools,” that charter schools have been embraced by the Obama administration — and by the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations before it — as “the saviors of a broken educational system.” But, they said, researchers still can’t answer the question: Does attendance at a charter school improve student outcomes?

Given this and other research that suggests results for charters are at best mixed, raises questions about this being the savior for low income and minority students across our state. With only 50 charters authorized in the legislation and ten new each year, it would take a long time for enough “successful” charters to emerge to meet the needs of all of these students. Given the sense of urgency implied by legislators in filing these bills one would wonder if the proposed fix is aligned with the expressed need.

What is the plan to assure that these fifty charters end up being successful in meeting the needs of ALL students that is not currently in place in other charters identified in the research? I am not anti-charter, I just believe that there are other priorities and that much more thought is needed before this legislation is approved. This editorial in the Seattle Times, the multiple posts over at the League of Education Voters, and many others, however, disagree with me.

No comments: