Last night the Seattle School Board had a "public hearing" on charter schools. In fact, it was a staged circus put on by a board that has already made up its mind to approve a resolution condemning school choice. I attended the meeting and made a brief statement in support of charter schools. I'll post a longer trip report later. My statement, which was boiled down to fit into a (unenforced, it turns out) three minute time limit, follows.
The disparity in school outcomes seems to be due, in part, to a disparity in school choices. Some of us can afford to choose between public schools, private schools or a move to the Eastside. Those who choose to stay with public schools also benefit from the challenge posed by parents who can and do remove their children (and support) from the public schools. The School District now has to compete to retain more affluent families who might otherwise leave.
But not all families benefit. Children of low-income parents are treated by the public schools as a captive audience. That’s why fairness requires that every family have the choice to send their kids to independent schools. No matter how well-intentioned our teachers might be, in the absence of parental choice and competition, failing schools may never improve and too many children will be left behind.
On the other hand, many charter schools succeed where traditional schools fail. Last week’s San Francisco Chronicle reported on a charter school in Oakland, managed by the nationwide KIPP program:
On state tests, KIPP students are outscoring most of their public school peers in the Bronx, Houston, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. In Oakland and elsewhere, students who never improved are finally seeing their reading scores advance. On an internal test, Oakland students improved their reading one grade level in the 2002-2003 school year.KIPP is ready to open a school here in Seattle, but can’t, because those with a financial stake in the status quo seek to deny choices to parents. Not every charter school will be as successful as KIPP, but neither are any of Seattle’s existing schools. It’s an injustice to deny Seattle’s underserved kids the chance to participate in a successful program, when all we can offer instead is the vague hope that their public school will miraculously improve some day.
While most KIPP middle-school students enroll at a third-grade reading level, studies show they reach their correct grade level in a year, and read above their grade level after two years. By the time they are ready for high school, 99 percent of KIPP students enter prestigious high schools on scholarship.
basically what you have is a teaching profession dominated by whites standing in the way of a reform movement that provides schooling options to other people's children. The effect is to deny opportunities to African-Americans and Latinos.I call on the School Board to join this new civil-rights movement and extend the choice of independent charter schools to all of Seattle’s children.
Sound familiar? School choice is much more than just another political issue. It is the new civil-rights movement.