With the passage of Initiative 1240 during the general election held this past November 6 Washington State voters authorized the establishment of an independent Charter School Commission. The initiative calls for the creation of 40 pilot charter schools in Washington which at the moment does not have any.
The initiative will go into effect on December 6 and, according to Jack Archer, a senior policy analyst at the Washington Board of Education, the board will have until March 6, 2013 to form the Commission. The Charter School Commission will have the authority to oversee the establishment of the 40 new schools, and within individual school districts a board of directors which has been approved by the state board will most likely authorize the establishment of new charter schools district by district .
In other parts of the country charter schools have been established and have proven in many cases to be an excellent alternative for many students. In New York Victory Education Partners was one of the first. Established in 1999 Victory Education Partners became the first manager of charter schools in that state. Today there are charter schools in 40 US states showing a respectable success rate in bringing quality education to students from a wide range of backgrounds and circumstances.
Charter schools are not private schools. They are publicly funded and there is government oversight to assure that each school meets the academic standards set by the state. What makes charter schools different and so attractive to many parents and students is the increased flexibility allowed in the development of curriculum and the more ease in which innovative educational practices can be implemented. Charter schools also have more freedom when hiring teachers and other support staff. Charter schools cannot charge tuition since they are public schools; however, if there is a greater demand than there are places a lottery system is frequently used to determine which children are accepted.
Are charter schools succeeding? According to the Charter School Association of California the 912 charter schools located in California, the country’s largest concentration of charter schools, have helped reduce the achievement gap between low-income and affluent students, an important success. According to Jed Wallace of the CCSA, charter schools are doing what they set out to do:
“Charter schools are breaking the link between poverty and under-performance. For far too long, too many within our traditional public school system have surrendered to the belief that poverty and under-performance are inexorably linked and that there is little that schools alone can do to help students overcome the various social barriers that they face. This paralyzing belief – under-girded by a self-perpetuating view that only some students, and not all students, are actually able to learn at high levels – has been used by many as justification for the various objections they raise to proposed reforms of our public education system. The performance of California’s charter schools – from classrooms in South Los Angeles to Oakland and San Diego to Sacramento – demonstrates that the possibility of transformational change is within our grasp if we have the courage to embrace reforms which serve the interests of students. “