Opinion

Charter Schools Will Help Struggling Students

By Rosalund Jenkins October 10, 2012

Last week, we ran a guest opinion piece opposing I-1240, this year's charter schools initiative. Today, the pro-charter side gets its say.

Educational equity is the civil rights issue of our time. Every year, 14,000 students drop out of Washington schools to face bleak futures in today’s knowledge-driven, global economy. Those dropping out are disproportionately students of color and students from low-income families. 

We can wring our hands over achievement/opportunity gaps and lament that schools never have enough money, or we can declare that the time for excuses is over; that we’re not going to let any more kids fall through the cracks. 

The latter approach is the way forward. We must act now to help struggling students. Washington’s public charter school initiative, I-1240, is one important way to do that. 

Charter schools are public schools, free and open to all students without restriction—just like traditional public schools. They are operated by approved, non-religious, not-for-profit organizations.

I-1240 allows up to 40 public charter schools statewide over the next five years, with priority given to schools serving at-risk students. These schools must comply with all local, state and federal laws regarding health, safety, civil rights, parents’ rights, and nondiscrimination. They can tailor learning environments to specific student groups, such as kids likely to drop out, those in chronically low-performing schools, or those with disabilities.

Before opening, a public charter school must complete a rigorous authorization process. Applicants must describe how the school’s educational program meets the needs of its students, aligns with state standards, and applies proven methods. Each school also must present a plan for meaningful parental involvement.

Charter schools are public schools, free and open to all students without restriction—just like traditional public schools. They are operated by approved, non-religious, not-for-profit organizations. 

Teachers in public charter schools must meet the same certification requirements as teachers in other public schools, and their students will be held to the same–or higher –academic standards as other public school students.

Where public charter schools differ is that teachers and principals have greater flexibility to assemble instructional teams, build curricula, lengthen the school day, allocate funding, and create educational environments that meet the needs of their particular students.

Research shows that these truly customized learning environments equip struggling students to overcome challenges and achieve at high levels, often outstripping their counterparts in traditional public schools. Contrary to what opponents would have you believe, this is especially true for students of color attending public charter schools in urban areas.

For too long we’ve heard defenders of the status quo proclaim that public charter schools will drain resources from public schools. That’s just not true. Charter schools authorized under I-1240 are public schools. When a student moves to a public charter school, funding follows that student, just as it does now if that student moves to a skills center, alternative high school, another neighborhood school, or even another school district.

Studies have found that charter schools can do great work in meeting the needs of at-risk students.  Forty-one other states allow public charter schools, giving families another option to find the best education for their children and helping thousands of students succeed across the country. Policy makers and educators in these states now recognize that public charter schools enhance, rather than endanger, traditional public schools.

Initiative 1240 brings the best of what works in other states to Washington.

Initiative 1240 is a meaningful and long-overdue step forward to help more students succeed, especially those who are struggling and at-risk of failure in traditional public schools. 

Rosalund Jenkins manages the Black Education Strategy Roundtable and supports community outreach for the League of Education Voters. She served as Executive Director of the Commission on African American Affairs under Governor Chris Gregoire from June 2005 to March 2011.

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