EDITORIAL: The Seattle Times, August 20, 2004

The Debunking Politics Of Charter Schools

Once again, charter-school opponents are doing everything they can to debunk the charter process except give it a fair chance.

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress report add nothing to the debate on charter schools. The study, a nationwide snapshot of the schools, does a disservice on many fronts. It measures the performance of students, some of whom have only been in their new schools for a matter of months. Pronouncements regarding their academic performance are more telling about the schools the children came from than about the charter schools they're in.

Charter schools are concentrated in urban, often poor, areas. Many students were unsuccessful in the public schools. After years of being academically behind, they are now playing catch-up. Yet, the study compares their achievement with their public-school counterparts. It is an unfair, premature comparison.

The politicization of this issue is unfortunate. Charter schools will not be a panacea for every underachieving student. Nor will they be monolithic in their results. Some charter schools will succeed wildly; some will fail abjectly.

What is the harm in trying?

For too many children, the status quo isn't working. In Seattle, where one in three children is enrolled in a private or parochial school, those trapped behind are, in many cases, from families too poor to pay for private education. Politics over charter schools aside, that is the real travesty.

We have to find another way to give needy students a top-notch education. Public schools need successful models to draw from.

Opponents do acknowledge individual success stories among charter schools but complain that there has yet to emerge a key ingredient that could be replicated in the public system.

We can find the recipe for success. First, we have to establish a limited number of charter schools.

In the meantime, the schools' progress could be analyzed for best and worst practices. Ultimately, the test of charters should be measured in the state's classroom.

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