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No to charters: We must focus on improving all schools

The real opportunity lies in implementing high standards and improving curriculum and instruction in schools statewide. And we have already made a good start on that undertaking.

Bryant School in Seattle

Bryant School in Seattle Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

All parents want what is best for their children, including access to a quality education. I’ve spent the last 20 years working on education reform and I feel more optimistic today than I ever have about the hope for providing all children in Washington state with a quality public education.

So why am I feeling so optimistic?

It isn’t because of charter schools. I’m opposing Initiative 1240, which would allow 40 new charter schools to be launched. I’m not convinced charter schools will address our responsibility to meet the needs of over 1 million public school students in Washington state. 

I’ve had the opportunity to visit charter schools in other states, review the research, meet with charter school teachers, and talk to parents who have children attending charter schools. As you might suspect, there are great charter schools and there are charter schools that lag behind their traditional public school counterparts. Launching charter schools does not transform public education.  

We have 2,368 public schools in our state so it’s time to think about bold, systemic changes that will impact all students. We also need to make tough choices, use our limited resources wisely and step up to our responsibility to provide a quality education for all students – not just a few.  This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for to improve the quality of education for all students In the state.  Let’s not get distracted by focusing on incremental changes that will impact a hanful of students attending 40 new charter schools.

I’m not alone in opposing Initiative 1240. The Washington State PTA, association of school principals, associations of superintendents and school boards, the teacher’s union, civil rights groups, community leaders, and organizations also oppose this initiative.

We’ve heard the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showing U.S. students rank 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math among students from more than 60 countries.

Let’s be very clear. This is not a problem with our teachers or our students. There are structural issues in our current public education system that are holding us back.

So why am I feeling optimistic?

I’ve spoken with the experts, including Dr. William Schmidt from Michigan State University, who have studied the characteristics of public education systems in the top performing country in the PISA study. One characteristic they all have in common are academic standards that allow students to progress through subject areas by building on knowledge they gained in previous years. The United States is one of the only countries that does not have clear academic standards that allow teachers to ensure their students have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful by providing clear goals for student learning.

Governors and state school superintendents in 46 states, including Washington’s Gov. Christine Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, have joined together to adopt Common Core State Standards in math and English Language Arts. These are not federal standards but instead are being developed and led by state leaders.

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are rigorous and allow students to apply their knowledge to solve real-world problems. In short, the standards are designed to help students graduate from high school ready to continue their preparation for careers in college or workforce training programs.

Common Core State Standards will improve Washington’s education system, impacting what happens in classrooms in all 2,368 schools for more than 1 million students throughout our state.

That is why I’m feeling optimistic!

I wish there was a silver bullet, like charter schools, that would magically transform public education. But, launching 40 charter schools will not impact all students in the state. The real magic happens in classrooms between teachers and their students. By implementing Common Core State Standards and investing in teacher professional development we can transform public education into a high-performing system that prepares all students for college and careers.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Oct 26, 8:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Agreed. We need to fully fund our existing schools to provide supports like graduation specialists, more vocational ed, college/career counselors and summer schools.

These are things we know work especially for at-risk students.

I-1240 will only weaken the ENTIRE system especially for rural and urban districts at a time when they have already endured cuts to their budgets.

No On 1240, www.no1240.org

westello

Posted Fri, Oct 26, 8:50 p.m. Inappropriate

40 Charters over 5 years will ruin "the ENTIRE system"? Huh? Seriously. Is this your argument?

Posted Sat, Oct 27, 1:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you for placing ALL children at the front of the line. I don't want to serve my children, those children, or the 'insert adjective' children. I want to provide a quality education to ALL children. I want to see exciting and personalized educational opportunities in every city and in every neighborhood. We begin this journey by fully funding education, not by adding 40 schools to an underfunded education system. We can, and should, recognize our paramount duty and put focused energy and resources into innovating and enhancing our schools. This has nothing to do with paid signature gatherers, a well funded campaign, and television commercials which insist we need to fall in line behind the 41 other states.

Posted Sat, Oct 27, 12:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for a smart, well-researched and honest article sans anecdotes, generalities or sarcasm, Ms. Walters.

Posted Wed, Oct 31, 7:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Well-stated. The oft-repeated, rarely supported "failing schools" theme creates a false sense of emergency. Of course there are challenges, especially when budgets get repeatedly slashed. Fund the existing system first, and realize that "flexibility" goes both ways. If administration has such a limited imagination that the only ideas they have to address the challenges they face is to violate the contract with their workforce, maybe they're the ones that need to be flexible and find a solution that will work within the constraints they knew existed when they took the job.

swendr

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