What if I told you that there was a method for improving urban schools that, when done well, can close the achievement gap between low-income students of color and their white, wealthier peers? That, when instituted citywide, it can result in the most improved urban district in history? That there are reams of academic research to learn from, dozens of successes to replicate, and clear pitfalls to avoid?
If you’re a small group of parents backed by the Washington Education Association, you file a lawsuit to keep it from happening.
I’m talking about charter schools, of course, and the latest attempt to prevent Washington’s families from having the choice to send their children to a free public school other than their traditional district school.
If you aren’t following along, Washington’s legislature passed a charter school law by voter referendum in 2012 only for it to be ruled unconstitutional last year due to an arcane definition of what’s considered a public school. A new law with a different funding source passed in April.
Kim Mead, the president of the Washington Education Association, frames the effort to block charter schools this way: “Instead of passing unconstitutional charter school laws, we believe the Legislature should focus on its paramount duty — fully funding K-12 basic education for all of our state’s 1.1 million students, no matter where they live.”
This is a red herring. There’s no doubt that all public schools, charters included, should be funded fully and equitably. But it deflects from the fact that the legislature has already passed the law. Mead’s red herring is also a clever way to avoid saying that eight schools in five cities should close their doors to hundreds of families who sought alternatives to their traditional public schools.
The move to block Washington’s charter law is a prime example of special (adult) interests throttling a promising model for improving the educational outcomes for students who need the most help. Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and Washington State resident, said it best:
The arguments against public charter schools in our state are based on fear-mongering, not facts, and are out of step with the rest of the country. Public charter schools are no panacea, nor are they a replacement for the many amazing public schools we have today, including those that my kids attend. But shame on all of us if we let misinformation and interest-group politics shut the door on new hope and opportunity for the kids who need it most.
Washington is a latecomer to the charter school movement— 42 other states and DC have charter laws on the books — but because of this, the state’s leaders also have 25 years of lessons at their disposal to build a top notch system. It could be a magnificent opportunity to give options to students stuck in failing schools, if only a small group of adults would get out of the way.
[Corrected 8/11/16: The original post indicated that the new law had more stringent regulations instead of a different funding source. It also indicated that the new law is fully constitutional. While it hasn’t been ruled UNconstitutional, no court has yet ruled either way. Both have been corrected.]