Charter Schools Can Close the Education Gap

We don’t have these, to my knowledge, in USD 259, the Wichita public school district, and there are very few in Kansas. Across the country, however, charter schools are making a difference, particularly in addressing the needs of urban and high-poverty students.

Joel I. Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, and Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, wrote an open letter to president-elect Barack Obama in the Wall Street Journal. In it they “second [his] belief that school reformers must demonstrate an unflagging commitment to ‘what works’ to dramatically boost academic achievement — rather than clinging to reforms that we ‘wish would work.'”

The coalition these two writers formed, the Education Equality Project (EEP), seeks to greatly narrow, if not eliminate, the achievement gap. It seeks to do so by what turns out to be a radical measure: “EEP seeks to ensure that America’s schools provide equal educational opportunity, judged by one measuring stick: Does a policy advance student learning? It’s an obvious litmus test. Yet the current K-12 school system is designed to serve the interests of adults, not children.”

How can this be radical — advancing student learning? Isn’t that what schools should be doing?

The reform paths that most public schools take are not ones that work. The characteristics of teachers, it turns out, is the most important factor in learning. (See Wichita Public School District’s Path: Not Fruitful for more.)

“Finally, our coalition also promotes the development and placement of effective teachers in underserved schools and supports paying them higher salaries. By contrast, we oppose rigid union-tenure protections, burdensome work rules, and antiquated pay structures that shield a small minority of incompetent teachers from scrutiny yet stop good teachers from earning substantial, performance-based pay raises.”

In Wichita, it appears that there are no proposals to pay teachers based on factors that make a difference in student learning. Instead, pay is based solely on education credentials earned and longevity — two factors shown to make no difference in student leaning. (Some researchers report a negative correlation between these factors and student learning.) Even a proposal a few years ago to offer teachers working in high-poverty schools a $1,500 bonus went nowhere.

The Wall Street Journal article is Charter Schools Can Close the Education Gap.

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