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Charter Schools: Here to
By David W. Kirkpatrick (March 06, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us
Until 1992 there were no charter schools in the United States, then the first one opened in St. Paul, Minnesota and continues to this day. The difference is that it is now joined by about 4200 others with a total enrollment of some 1.2 million, and eight major areas have 20% or more of their students in public charter schools. A bit more than 2000 schools opened from 1992-2001 and about 2,000 did so in the past seven years. There could be more, since there are 365,000 prospective students on waiting lists. That the public is increasingly aware of the value of such schools is indicated by national polls which, in 2007, found 60% of the public favor charter schools, up from 25% in 1999.
Not all is rosy as some charter schools never got off the ground, others began but didn't last, a few states have not adopted charter school laws, and diehard opponents are still trying to block any progress, or even roll the movement back if they can. So skirmishes exist, but going from 0-4200 schools and from 0-1.2 million students in a bit more than 15 years clearly indicates this is a school reform movement that will not be stopped.
These numbers give the charter schools the critical mass necessary to organize in their own defense at the local, state and national levels. One such group, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, issues a weekly report on the internet, Charter Schools News Connection. Its news in the past few months has included the following:
In California alone a record was set in 2007 for opening new charter schools, with 103 doing so, breaking the earlier high of 84 in 2005. These brought the total number of charter schools in California to 686. In Los Angeles the year saw 23 new charter schools created bringing the total to 125, the most for any city in the nation.
It is increasingly being recognized that charter schools have a value beyond that of student academic achievement. In St. Louis, Mayor Francis Slay says he can wait no longer for that city's schools to improve. As a result he has written letters to educators, nonprofit education groups, and charter school companies nationwide in an attempt to create more charter schools in the city which he believes will, in turn, attract more families to the city. More important than mere letters, however, the mayor's office has indicated that it will provide support for charter applicants and operators including helping them secure school buildings, find loans, and gaining approval for their proposals.
In New Orleans, where the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 damaged the city's schools as well as the community in general, more than half the city's students now attend 40 charter schools. These represent half of the public schools in the city and another nine charter schools may open by this fall. The latest good news for them is that three philanthropies - the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, and the Broad Foundation - are going to give $17.5 million to help New Orleans' schools. These dollars will go to create and support charter schools, train and support 40 principals, and attract teachers to the city.
In an example of some of the creative approaches made possible by effective charter school laws Mayor ‘Daniel McKee of Cumberland, Rhode Island is proposing a public elementary school which will serve five separate communities in that state. Enrolling 200 students, the school with have no admission criteria and will be the first of several schools to be developed over the next five to six years in the area. Oversight for the first school will be provided by the mayor, or a board of mayors from the five communities, while day-to-day operations will be run by a nonprofit organization. However, to do this, it will be first necessary to have the state legislature lift a charter moratorium or pass new legislation which will specifically create a regional school system in the area, Rhode Island's Blackstone Valley.
Finally, in New York, 79% of the state's charter schools received As and Bs compared to 62% of regular public schools.
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"At least the charter school movement buries its dead. It doesn't keep them on life support far beyond when their lives are over, like in most public schools." --Bruno V. Manno, senior fellow, Annie E. Casey Foundation, cited, op. 18, Jeff Archer, Accountability Measures Vary Widely, op 1 & 18-20, Education Week, May 17, 2000
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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
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