NEWS--Outstanding Charter Schools Provide Models to Help Students Succeed
Jun 05, 2009 (Congressional Documents and Publications/ContentWorks via COMTEX) -- Thursday, June 04, 2009 Press Office, 202-226-0853 Outstanding Charter Schools Provide Models to Help Students Succeed, Witnesses Tell Education House Panel Chairman Miller Urges Congress to Support Expanding High Performing Charter Schools and Not Limit Growth WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congress should find a way to replicate and support the successes of outstanding charter schools as it works to improve our public schools, witnesses told the House Education and Labor Committee today.
Some of the most promising and influential public school reform strategies in recent years have been pioneered by the charter movement, including extending learning time, principal autonomy over staff and budget decisions, high expectations for all students, using data-driven research and focusing relentlessly on results.
"Outstanding charter schools are proving that low-income and minority kids can achieve at the highest levels, graduate from college and thrive as adults," said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chair of the committee. "The challenge ahead will be to take the lessons learned in these schools and bring them to scale, so every child can have the same opportunity to succeed" President Obama and Secretary Duncan are strong advocates for charter schools. In March, President Obama encouraged states to reform charter laws to lift caps while increasing the rigor of selection and promoting greater accountability.
"Improving our education system by expanding high-quality public charter schools is one of this Administration's highest priorities," said Jim H. Shelton, III, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. "States must remove arbitrary caps that have limited the replication and expansion of some of our nation's highest-performing charter schools and charter school networks." 41 states and territories have enacted charter school laws. There are over 4600 schools today, serving 1.4 million students. Over 60 percent of the students served by charter schools are minority and over 50 percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
Witnesses also emphasized that being a charter school does not necessarily ensure that a school will be successful.
High performing charter schools with commitments to a rigorous curriculum with high standards, accountability, and autonomy, are able to turn around student achievement very quickly and effectively, and are often able to close the achievement gap, witnesses explained.
Dr. John King, the Managing Director with Uncommon Schools, a non-profit charter management organization, discussed the incredible successes of Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston, a charter school he co-founded. Roxbury Prep has been the highest performing urban middle school in Massachusetts for five years and has closed the racial achievement gap on state exams. Roxbury Prep and other schools in the Uncommon Schools network have similar percentages of African American, Latino, and students living in poverty than other schools in their districts. The success of this school and others is "replicable and scalable when school leaders are given autonomy with respect to budget, staffing, curriculum and instruction, and school culture and held strictly accountable for their results," he testified.
"Charter schools offered a way to stimulate innovation within public education by giving educators greater autonomy in exchange for greater accountability," said Barbara O'Brien, Lt. Governor of Colorado. "Charter schools create opportunities and open doors for kids who would otherwise be left behind. They do it by using the best of the American spirit -- entrepreneurship, innovation, and hard work. They are an asset, not a threat, to our public education system." Steve Barr, founder and chairman of Green Dot Public Schools -- where 80 percent of students graduate and 80 of graduates are accepted to four year colleges -- discussed the dual role of the charter schools he founded. They serve both to help provide excellent education opportunities for the students at the schools, but also to provide research and development opportunities to the district, to show what is working: "The result of the R&D of Green Dot is clear-cut across the board--and that's that African American kids and Latino kids can learn when they're in a system of schools that are small, are college and work ready, the dollars get in the classroom, there's support for our product, we're accountable to parents and we ask parents to be involved. In that vision, we think it not only serves our ultimate stakeholders--which are the students--but also teachers." Barr also discussed the unique partnership Green Dot schools has formed with the teachers union. Green Dot teachers are unionized. The union contract has "just-cause" protections instead of tenure.
"There's ultimate accountability; job stability is not just based on seniority but also on performance," Barr said. "[Green Dot asks] teachers to be more involved in decision-making and [it pays] more. Our Green Dot/UFT School in New York has total alignment between the mayor, the chancellor, and the president of the teachers union.".