Monday, December 3, 2012

Getting Better Results at a Lower Cost to Taxpayers in Public Education ... Charter Schools are Growing

Our nation's urban education system is in desperate need of upgrading, as we all know.

But what many of us may not know is how simple and quick that fix could be. We simply have to empower parents, students and other interested individuals to freely choose which schools their children will attend. Competition will do the rest of the job.

Of course, parents and students exercising free choice is exactly what teachers unions and their political allies will fight to the end. Meanwhile, the innocent children are the victims of public education's monopoly, and the opportunity to improve our schools, lower our costs, and increase our competitiveness as a nation has been foregone. But now there's hope.

Schools Ring Closing Bell is subtitled 'More Are Shut as Student-Age Population Declines, Charters Add Competition:'

"WASHINGTON—At Davis Elementary in this city's mostly poor southeast section, 178 students are spread out in a 69-year-old building meant to hold 450.

Three miles away, the new, $30 million KIPP charter school teems with 1,050 children. Toddlers crawl over a state-of-the-art jungle gym and older students fill brightly decorated classrooms. A waiting list holds 2,000 names.

Many students who live within the Davis boundaries instead attend the charter school, one of 125 nationwide run by KIPP, a nonprofit. The exodus helped land Davis on a list of 20 schools targeted for closure next school year.

Closing underused schools, however painful, will let the district shift resources to "improve the quality of education we provide to our students," Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said at a recent city council hearing packed with parents, teachers and students pleading for schools to be kept open.

Similar scenes are playing out in places such as Tucson, Ariz., Chicago and Philadelphia, where school systems are rolling out plans to close underenrolled and underperforming facilities. The efforts are driven by a drop in the school-age population, the Obama administration's push to shut poor-performing schools and competition from charters, the publicly funded schools run by independent groups. . . .

During the 2010-11 school year, school districts nationwide closed 1,069 traditional public schools, uprooting nearly 280,000 students. . . . That was up from 717 closings affecting 193,000 students in 2000-01 . . . .

Even charters aren't immune. In 2010-11, 128 charter schools were closed, compared with 44 in 2000-01, the data show. This past week, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a nonprofit group that represents government and other entities that approve charter-school applications, called on its members to close hundreds of poor-performing charters and urged new state laws to improve accountability. The group said at least 900 of the nation's 6,000 charters, which also receive private donations, post test scores that land them in the bottom 15% of all schools in their states.

"We did not start this movement to create more bad schools," said Greg Richmond, president of the group. "We want smarter charter-school growth and stronger accountability."

Proponents of school choice say closing low-performing and underenrolled campuses is a natural outgrowth of heathy competition, while many teacher unions argue that struggling schools often need more resources to fairly compete. . . .

In Chicago, rumors that the city intended to close as many as 100 schools laid the foundation for the two-week teachers strike in September and sparked rallies protesting the closings and prompted protests citywide. Facing a Saturday deadline, city officials lobbied state legislators last week to allow a delay in identifying schools targeted for closure. State lawmakers granted the extension and the governor signed the bill Friday. Chicago schools officials have said they will implement a five-year moratorium on closings after next year's schools closings.

In Washington, enrollment in district-run schools has dropped to about 42,000 this year from about 61,000 in 2002, due partly to the city's dwindling school-age population and the growing popularity of charter schools. About 40% of D.C. public-school students now attend charters....

"There is nothing easy about closing schools and it is extremely difficult to find productive uses for the buildings," said Emily Dowdall, a senior researcher at Pew.

Still, underused schools like Davis, which has students from preschool through fifth grade, can be expensive to operate. Davis Elementary spends about $13,225 a pupil, with about 32% going toward classroom teachers, and the rest funding such things as instructional aides, office staff and custodians. Nearby Langdon Elementary, with more than twice as many students, spends $9,900 a pupil, with 55% going to classroom teachers. . . .

Since 2009, the portion of Davis students who tested proficient in reading doubled to 34%, while math proficiency jumped to 35% from 22%. At the nearby KIPP school, 59% are proficient in reading and 75% in math.

Nichole Young lives a few blocks from Davis but sends her 4-year-old son to KIPP. "I don't have anything against Davis," said Ms. Young, who teaches 12th grade English in a Maryland public school. "But we visited KIPP and observed the children in classes and they seemed so happy to be learning and that won me over.""

Summing Up

Unless you're a teachers union leader or 'old school' politician, what's not to like about charter schools? They simply introduce an element of competition into the equation.

Private money is added to public money, and kids and their parents often choose to attend the schools for several good reasons.

The student's academic performance often improves, and the school's operating environment, in addition to being pleasant, is conducive to learning as well. It's the market at work.

For all those reasons, taxpayers will like charter schools, too.

Thanks. Bob.

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