New to the area, I clearly have no personal experience, nor expertise, on Washington state’s school systems. Yet, I’m struck by the degree of controversy surrounding public charter schools in Washington, and join the public chorus taken aback by the state Supreme Court’s decision to simply render them illegal, rather than in need of reform.
It appears the court engaged in the proverbial, and oft-misguided, “throw the baby out with the bath water.”
With all due respect, I must take issue with Cris Shardelman’s “My View” (Sept. 18, page A4) supporting the court’s decision, and her blanket objection to federal funding for charters.
At their core, charter schools offer community-based options — culturally sensitive, creative and engaging educational environments — for children, parents and teachers. Charters offer much-needed alternatives to reach and teach underserved populations and individual learning styles — in fact, leveling a playing field historically subject to profound differences in resource allotment and funding, while promoting academic excellence for all. While not all charters have met this ideal, many more have and can. Meanwhile, albeit well intentioned, most public school systems nationwide failed, and continue to fail, to serve these populations.
Shardelman takes issue with “lack of accountability.” Yet, from the inception, public support and federal funding for charter schools championed higher achievement and more, not less, accountability. Non-partisan, equitable, independent, diverse and flexible, charter schools are by no means “above the law,” as Shardelman asserts. Rather they must adhere, if not exceed, the same educational laws and requirements required of all public schools.
In my own experience as a charter school founder, the accountability requirements were much closer monitored and far more stringent than their traditional public school counterparts, often in fact absorbing far more resources, including teacher time to actually teach.
I can’t claim to know what went “wrong” with the charter school system in Washington that led to the court’s decision, but I do know so much can go right. It is up to an individual state to interpret, legislate, program and monitor the Federal Charter Schools Program under their auspices. As one of the very last states in the country to put in place a charter school option, one would have thought that, if anything, their efforts would have been positively informed by the experiences, pitfalls and successes, of the legacy before them.
Back to the drawing board, yes, but no total dissolution of charter school options — a premature demise and a distinct loss for Washington children, parents and educators.
Lisa deFaria, LICSW