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April 15, 2013

Moving forward with charter schools in Tacoma

by Aaron T. Sherman

At the end of March, the Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) board of directors voted 4-1 denoting intent to apply as a charter school authorizer in Washington state. Despite rhetoric espousing this vote as nothing more than additional time for consideration, it appears that TPS does indeed see utility in joining the charter school movement. This step marks, for the first time, a change in tone from the district, which opposed Initiative 1240 during the 2012 campaign.

This shift will be crucial in the coming months as Tacoma evaluates its role in Washington's educational landscape. If TPS is to become a State sanctioned authorizer, their attitude toward charter school suitors must be explicitly positive and open to new reforms. As per the language of I-1240, charter authorizers will be the primary negotiators with non-profit organizations seeking to establish these new schools.

The hard truth of the matter is that if TPS wishes to attract competitive, top tier organizations to pioneer charter schools in Washington it must advertise its openness to innovative methods for education.

For those who remain opposed to charter schools in Tacoma, your place at the table remains. It is true that charters have produced mixed results in other places across the country. However, continuing to block charter schools in Tacoma will only decrease the likelihood of their effectiveness and prevent what could be an invaluable resource for our students, faculty and communities.

In California where charter schools have been achieving success and working through challenges since 1992, the most infamous failures have often been attributed to a lack of community buy in. Of course this is not the only issue that has caused strife in California's charter system: under funding, administrative conflicts, and shifting state standards are but a few of the problems which have also contributed.

However this need not be the case in Washington and certainly not in Tacoma.

We will be the 42nd state in the Union to adopt charter schools as a public option for education. We can learn from others mistakes. We can learn from our own mistakes. We can achieve new successes together. But first we must embrace the passage of I-1240 and make Tacoma the premier community for Washington charter schools.

Aaron T. Sherman is an M.Ed. in Education Policy candidate at the University of Washington specializing in issues of equity and student development.


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