Editorial: seattletimes.nwsource.com, August 30, 2009

Los Angeles school district hopes charter approach rescues failing schools
The Los Angeles Unified School District already has the highest number of charter schools in the country. It is set to add 250 more charters in a praiseworthy effort to rescue failing schools..

Much separates Seattle from Los Angeles besides 954 miles. L.A.'s school district enrolls 688,800; Seattle's, 46,000. There are little more than 90 schools in Seattle, 800 in L.A.

By its sheer size, however, events in L.A. will heavily influence the charter-school movement.

Attention rightly goes first to the students. Los Angeles education leaders and Mayor Antonio Villaraignosa are acknowledging their failure to turn around chronically underperforming schools. The plan is to shift 200 existing schools, plus 50 new ones, to operators who might do a better job.

Finally, Johnny has a chance to learn how to read.

The move is not without controversy, notably from the teachers union. But they must share the blame, along with parents and administrators, for failing students. Giving teachers an advisory vote on charter-school operators ought to be embraced as a way to share in a solution.

Adding complexity to the debate is President Obama's embrace of charter schools as a centerpiece of education reform. Since 1991, 4,600 charter schools have opened, educating 1.4 million of the nation's 50 million public-school students, according to the federal Education Department.

Stanford University researchers found that students in some charter schools did extremely well, while many others were not faring as well as students in traditional public schools. It would be unfair to cast those results as more than they are: In the public and private domain, some schools do well, others do not.

Washington voters have said "no" three times to proposed charter laws. But innovative alternative schools are embraced.

Whether districts embrace charters, alternative schools or the federal push to restructure failing schools, what is needed is a sense of urgency to drive creativity and a willingness to try different things. The key is not to give up.

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