|Putting Children First||
Editorial: usatoday.com, April 1, 2013
Charter school experiment a success: Our view
by The Editorial Board, USA TODAY
The arrival of charter schools in any city usually starts a fight.
Critics — whether district superintendents or teachers' unions or school boards or a traveling band of academic doubters — snipe at the newcomers, arguing that they're siphoning students and money from traditional public schools.
But as evidence from the 20-year-old charter experiment mounts, the snipers are in need of a new argument. There's little doubt left that top-performing charters have introduced new educational models that have already achieved startling results in even the most difficult circumstances.
That doesn't mean all charters are automatically good. They're not. But it's indisputable that the good ones — most prominently, KIPP — are onto something. The non-profit company, which now has 125 schools, operates on a model that demands much more of students, parents and teachers than the typical school does. School days are longer, sometimes including Saturday classes. Homework burdens are higher, typically two hours a night. Grading is tougher. Expectations are high, as is the quality of teachers and principals, and so are the results.
KIPP's eighth-grade graduates go to college at twice the national rate for low-income students, according to its own tracking. After three years, scores on math tests rise as if students had four years of schooling, according to an independent study.
The question isn't whether such successful models should be replicated, but how best to do it. In some forward-thinking communities, that reality is altering the stale charter debate.
Houston's Spring Branch school district, for instance, courted two proven charter companies — KIPP and YES Prep — to open schools with their own teachers and principals inside two existing public schools. Finding and paying for space is one of the biggest obstacles charters face.
The charters started last fall with fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms, and they plan to expand over the next few years. They're sharing ideas and programs with district teachers and principals. In exchange, the district is providing the extracurricular activities, from band classes to sports, that charters often lack.
Richard Barth, CEO of the KIPP Foundation, says similar collaborations have sprung up across the country, where civic leaders have moved past the "charter vs. district debate" and are asking themselves: "How do we just make sure that every child in the city gets to wake up in the morning and go to a great school?"
This revolutionary change is coming at a propitious moment: A rigorous new study of KIPP, the nation's best known and most scrutinized charter network, blew away criticism that has fueled the charter fight. Critics have long contended that KIPP's success with minority and low-income children is less about its methods than about skimming the best students with the most motivated parents. Not so, the five-year study of 43 KIPP middle schools concluded.
Instead, Mathematica Policy Research found that KIPP schools improved student achievement in math, reading, science and social studies. Researchers compared students who had won lotteries to enter KIPP schools against students in the lotteries who lost out. Thus, students and their parents were equally motivated. Even so, the KIPP students did better.
The sooner educators figure out how to replicate charter successes, the better off students will be.
Copyright 2013USA TODAY
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