Saturday, January 10, 2009

Liberal Newspapers for School Choice

The Boston Globe has an excellent editorial today urging an end to that state's resistance to, and discrimination against, charter schools. It joins The Washington Post among otherwise left-leaning newspapers that have broken with anti-school reform dogma of teachers' unions, and the Democratic Party, by embracing educational choice as an imperative for the troubled schools in the urban areas the papers serve. And the impact of this can't be underestimated, since such arguments have much more power coming from the left than from the right.

There may be other left-leaning editorial pages out there that have similarly broken ranks, understanding that a slavish conformity to ideology is costing millions of kids a better education and opportunity. But today I can cite only these two.

So bully for The Boston Globe.

Bully for The Washington Post.

The Post blazed this trail by supported a voucher program for the District of Columbia, which must have set unions and Democrats back on their heals. And the paper has generally seemed to support controversial D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee in her efforts to turn around a terrible school system, including with this Jan. 7 editorial excoriating the D.C. City Council for undermining Rhee. And now comes the Boston Globe, to advocate for lifting the state's caps on charter schools, in response to compelling evidence that they're producing better results.

Here's The Globe:

Raise the cap on charters
January 10, 2009

THE SHORTEST DISTANCE between urban students and quality education is a charter school that is free to lengthen the school day, enhance the curriculum, and assign teachers without interference from teachers unions or downtown bureaucrats. Yet state education officials not only resist lifting tight caps on new charter schools but are now contemplating measures that would undermine opening charter schools under the current cap.

A new Boston Foundation study compared the achievement of Boston students at charter, traditional, and in-district pilot schools, which have adopted some charter-like reforms. The charter schools, which are run by independent boards, topped the list. The most dramatic finding in the new study was the success of charter schools in raising math performance by middle school students - usually a resistant bunch.

For middle school students in Boston, the impact of attending a good charter school meant moving from the 50th to the 69th percentile on the MCAS math test. The study also dispatched the tired argument that charters succeed only because they attract students from education-minded families and leave district schools with the hardest-to-serve students. It compares the achievement of charter school students in Boston with those who were motivated to enter the lottery but failed to win a seat.

With 61 charter schools underway, there seems to be plenty of room under the statewide cap of 120 schools. But a deeper look reveals a problem. State law also requires that no school district be required to transfer more than 9 percent of its net school spending to charter schools. That cap looms over Boston, where there is room for only 111 more charter school seats while 7,000 Boston students linger on waiting lists.

And how does one expand charter school opportunities in North Adams, with room under the cap for only 34 students, or in Somerville, with room remaining for just 70 students? The situation is barely better in Cambridge, Chelsea, Holyoke, Lowell, and other urban districts where the addition of a single new charter would meet or exceed the cap.

Now, to make matters worse, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester is working on a proposal to the Board of Education that would delay the opening of new charter schools even under the current cap. State education officials are under heavy pressure from school district and local officials who must reallocate per-pupil costs to charter schools in hard times. But these are the same officials who are responsible for running schools that so many families are determined to flee. The touchstone in this debate should be student achievement, not the fiscal challenges in school districts, which can close or consolidate schools to offset declining enrollment.

The best strategy would be to double the potential for new charter schools in low-performing urban districts by raising the net school spending limit from 9 percent to 18 or 20 percent. School districts will howl. But they may also recognize the urgent need to provide their own students with longer school days and deeper opportunities.

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