Sunday, February 06, 2005

Charter Schools Will Succeed With Support and Vision

Charter Schools Will Succeed With Support and Vision

Sunday, February 6, 2005


My high school-aged son lost many hours of my attention back when I decided to help open a public charter school. Now a law student, he is proud of the two schools I am involved with, but firsthand knowledge also has made him an armchair critic.

"Why are you so positive about the charter schools when much of the public response is not?" he asks with increased frequency. What he really is asking is whether the charter concept is flawed or if it is a good model marred by poor oversight and implementation.

I understand his questions, having just begun in the past few years to be able to use the "C" word with pride and optimism. So as the legislative session ramps up – as does our school expansion plan for Peak Academy and North Hills – I felt a need to answer this question.

Charters, if appropriately regulated and funded, provide an unprecedented mechanism for encouraging several things important to all educators: new avenues for private support of public education, local control as a replacement for external bureaucracy and – perhaps most important – a less politicized environment for educators.

Future charter policy reforms must link specifically to those freedoms and innovations that work for successful charters and then study the possible application of these freedoms to traditional public schools. A place to start is looking at how local control is used by successful charter organizations to achieve positive results with students.

My increasingly optimistic view about charter schools reflects the privilege of working side by side with strong and reputable groups, philanthropists and nonprofits that have chosen charters as a tool. They know that it is not often that the opportunity to bring together private and public efforts comes along to build a powerful model for change.

As the millennium loomed before us just five years ago, Diane Ravitch, one of the more often-quoted experts on educational reform, published Left Back: a Century of Battles Over School Reform. In her conclusion she writes:

"If schools know and affirm what they do well, they can liberate themselves from the fads and panaceas that have often been inflicted on them by pressure groups."

Inspired by Ms. Ravitch, we ought to focus on what all schools do well, traditional, charter or private. Public schools in most states have some level of publicized data. When these schools perform poorly – traditional or charter – the public knows.

Instead of spending our energy condemning a relatively new effort to improve the very complex industry of education, let's focus on closing all bad public schools, on improving all of them that are hovering in the middle of the pack and on supporting and funding all successful schools.

Improvement requires us to engage in a nonpartisan look at the details behind the stories. The public deserves this. What's more, students, families and educators who have committed to successful charter schools deserve this.

Rosemary Perlmeter is executive director of Uplift Education. Her e-mail address is

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