Charter schools bring accountability to system
AT the National Charter Schools Program Showcase in Washington, D.C., on May 1-2, I learned a great deal about charter schools. Through their own initiative, charter schools have become the model for school choice or alternative to current bureaucratic education systems. Nationally, charter schools have disproved the stereotypical "fringe" label and are embraced by both ends of the political spectrum. Charter schools are recognized as a means of providing a high-quality education in an efficient, flexible and, more important, accountable manner.
In New York City, 51 percent of charter schools outperformed district schools in the fourth-grade English Language Arts test in 2005. At the eighth-grade level, 67 percent of charter schools outperformed district schools for the English Language Arts test in 2005. In mathematics, charter school fourth-graders outperformed their district school counterparts by 76 percent. At the eighth-grade level, charter schools exceeded their district counterparts by 67 percent. Also important, the enrollment for New York charter schools is 87 percent minority students, of which 76 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch benefits.
THE PRIMARY appeal of charter schools is "accountability." Unlike any other public or private school system, those willing to commit to a charter school community agree to be held accountable for its performance. Administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents are accountable for their successes and failures. Charter schools voluntarily take on the responsibility of educating students according to measurable and transparent standards. Importantly, charter schools can be closed for their failures. However, experience has shown our state's response to education has been disappointing at best.
THE CURRENT education system lacks any form of responsibility or accountability. The Department of Education blames the federal government for setting unreasonable standards in the No Child Left Behind act. The teachers union points its fingers at the federal government, the DOE administration and parents. The Hawaii Government Employees Association, the union representing school principals, blames everyone -- including the students. The Legislature, led by Education Chairman Sen. Norman Sakamoto, keeps rewarding this undeniable pattern of failure by simplistically throwing more money at the problem. Despite this pattern of failure, a handful of educators, parents, teachers and students have boldly faced the challenge of providing a quality education, in an accountable and reviewable manner, called charter schools.
CHARTER SCHOOLS should be welcomed and supported. Gov. Lingle has been an ardent supporter of charter schools. She has proposed sweeping legislation to realize the full potential of charter schools. The parents and students of charter schools also have been clamoring for a change in the law. How is it, then, that bureaucrats, politicians and union bosses seem to know better? A good starting place to change this attitude is to elect politicians who listen and act, not act like they listen.
Ted Hong, an attorney, represents several charter schools. He lives in Hilo.