2015-10-15 / Opinion

Charter Schools Take Off

The Wall Street Journal, in a feature story on Monday, Oct. 12, documented the rapid growth of charter schools nationally and in our neighboring state of Massachusetts, including the city of Boston. Some of the statistics are amazing.

The WSJ says that in the two decades “since charter schools first appeared in the U.S. as an experiment, they are poised to become mainstream in many parts of the country.” Nationally, about 2.5 million children, or 5.1 percent of public school students, now attend a charter school, up from 300,000, or 0.7 percent, 14 years ago, the Journal reports.

In Massachusetts, “at least 37,000 families are on waiting lists for charter schools statewide, with 13,000 of them seeking spots in Boston alone, according to data reported to the state.” In Boston, 15 percent of students presently are enrolled in independently-run charter schools, the Journal states, noting that Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation last week that “effectively would lift the 18 percent spending cap in the state’s lowest-performing districts.” The governor’s bill also would permit charter schools to use a lottery system “that gives added weight to high-need and low-income students.”

“I just know that charters have proved to be a big success for kids who deserve better than they are getting,” Baker said.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has 101,060 students – 16 percent of its 643,493 K through 12 students – enrolled in charter schools. Despite opposition from the teachers’ union, “the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other charter school advocates have discussed funding enough charter schools to get market share to 50 percent in the district," the Journal reports.

The newspaper points out that “nearly every major city has charters, challenging the traditional public school model as parents increasingly send their children to these privately-run but publiclyfunded institutions and politicians allocate more tax dollars.”

Advocates of charter schools say they offer more school choice, alternatives to lagging public schools, and more autonomy from bureaucracy to try new learning approaches.

Opposition to charter schools comes primarily from education unions who see their memberships dropping as non-union charter schools reach or surpass a 15 to 20 percent market share of the student population. A prime example is the current climate in Newport involving a possible one- or twostudent increase in class size, which has the city’s unionized teachers on a “work-to-rule” campaign.

Don Dery

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