EDITORIAL: Seattle Times, October 3, 2004

The Times Endorses: "Yes" for Charter School Reform

In the years Washington state has spent debating charter schools, much could have been learned about them if a few had been allowed to exist.

The charter-school debate has monopolized the conversation on public-education reform long enough. Time to stop speculating about what charter schools would do and create some so we can find out. Washington voters should respond in the affirmative when asked on Nov. 2 whether they wish to retain a charter-school bill passed last spring by the state Legislature.

A yes vote on Referendum 55 means choosing a modest experiment with charter schools run by qualified nonprofit organizations under the direction of local school boards. Under the plan, only five new charter schools would be created each year for the next three years, and 10 a year for three years after that.

The majority of the schools would be required to serve disadvantaged children. Existing schools that aren't working could convert to charter status.

Charter schools won't be a panacea. They will not resolve all the challenges facing public education. What they promise to do is offer different ways of teaching and learning that could help students struggling in traditional schools.

Charter schools won't replace existing schools. They will operate alongside a continued strong investment in our public schools.

Nearly 3,000 charter schools operate around the nation. Some work well, some not at all. The task is to find out what works and replicate it. Public investment in education should target those strategies that work, but first we must learn what works. Charter schools in this state are still an unknown quantity. The search for answers in education should leave no stone unturned.

Charter schools can become incubators of innovation and high-quality achievement. Some may fail along the way. But there are public schools failing right now. There should be no retreat from finding ways to help these schools-including creating charter schools.

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