Charter, traditional
schools have value


A national report shows that charter school students are faring no better than their peers in traditional schools.

A U.S. Department of Education analysis that shows charter school students are performing no better, and sometimes worse, than regular public schools students conflicts with results of tests administered by the state.

Though the federal report should not be ignored, it isn't cause for great concern because it draws from a representative sample of students in 150 of about 3,200 charter schools nationwide. The report, however, continues to fuel the ideological friction between advocates and critics of charter schools.

The analysis, based on the results of the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress test for fourth graders, found that children in charter schools are faring no better in reading than their peers in traditional schools and are trailing them in math.

The gaps narrowed or widened when certain subgroups were isolated or when other variables were considered. For example, there were no significant differences in reading levels, but when special education students were not included, charters scored considerably lower.

The national scores do not parallel results of this year's Hawaii State Assessment data that showed charter students doing slightly better on average than regular students. However, it is difficult to make comparisons.

The federal analysis, regarded as the most authoritative to date, unfortunately left many questions unanswered.

It allowed charter school supporters, such as Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner, head of the House panel on education, to take comfort in the fact that, at the least, charters "were not doing significantly worse." Boehner's remarks prompted critic Bella Rosenberg of the American Federation of Teachers to steal a line from President Bush in calling them " a standard of success otherwise known as the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Education should not be an either-or proposition. Just as there is room for debate and further studies, America can accommodate both charter and traditional schools.


Don’t let privatization
trim federal pensions


President Bush has called for a Social Security overhaul, allowing people to divert taxes to private accounts.

PRESIDENT Bush is calling on Congress to allow taxpayers to divert some of their Social Security payroll taxes into private retirement accounts, nourishing the economy while reaping greater pension benefits. Any overhaul including such private investments would have to deal with an enormous projected shortfall of funds in the system. Desirable as the investment opportunity might be, it should not create an even larger deficit.

Social Security now runs at a surplus, collecting more in payroll taxes than the $471 billion paid last year in benefits. However, by some estimates, benefits could surpass revenue as early as 2018. Estimated projections of the shortfall vary from $3.5 trillion to $10.4 trillion over the next 75 years. A presidential commission reported three years ago that $3.4 trillion in additional revenue would be needed to replace the money diverted to private accounts.

The president says he opposes reducing benefits, but a plan recommended by the 2001 commission would do just that. The plan, which the White House most often cites, would index benefits to inflation instead of people's preretirement earnings.

Under the current system, a middle-income worker who retires in 2065 would receive yearly benefits of $26,400, about 40 percent of the worker's wages. Indexing benefits to inflation, which typically rises 1 percent slower than wages, would set those at $14,600, about 22 percent of wages. The commission estimates that would save $18 trillion over 75 years, more than enough to keep the system in the black.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., proposes a more acceptable method of eliminating the shortfall by repealing the $87,900 earnings cap on payroll taxes.

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