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No to charters: We must focus on improving all schools

Bryant School in Seattle Credit: 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.

The choice is clear.

Should we focus on incremental change by launching charter schools or focus on providing a quality education for all students in our state? Charter schools will impact the quality of education for students in 40 schools. Common Core State Standards will impact education for the million-plus students in all 2,368 public schools across the states.  

I’ve made my choice. I am opposing Initiative 1240 because I feel we need to remain focused on making changes in public education that will position all of our students for success, not just a few of them.

We have a lot of hard work ahead of us as we implement the Common Core State Standards and we can’t afford to get distracted. Let’s work together to ensure all students in Washington state have access to a quality education.  

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