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Charter Schools Demand Exception to the Law

The debate over whether charter schools play by the same rules as traditional public schools was on display in the Los Angeles Unified School District ("Newly emboldened, L.A. charter schools push to rewrite local rules," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 4).  Lashon Academy Charter School, a small Hebrew-immersion charter school, asked the district board to renew its charter for another five years without agreeing to legal language governing special education and school diversity. But the district correctly refused.

I've long believed that the success of many charter schools is the direct result of their freedom to reject students whom traditional schools by law must enroll.  As long as they can continue to do so, whatever positive outcomes charter schools post have to be considered accordingly.  It's like comparing private schools with public schools.  The former can enroll only those students they want. As a result, the debate over which is superior is futile.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, cannot possibly be expected to violate the law about oversight.  Yet that is precisely what Lashon Academy is asking the district to do.  There is already too much latitude given to them.  As a charter school authorizer, the district has to follow its own policies and a 1996 federal court order to improve special education services throughout the district.  But I expect to see Lashon and other charter schools persist in their efforts to carve out exceptions.

Those who think an exception should be made will point to he latest evidence about charter school superiority.  A study by Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes ("Fresh proof of charter-school miracles," New York Post, Oct. 4) found that gains in test scores of 75,000 third- through eighth-graders in 197 New York City charter schools between 2011-12 and 2015-16 amounted on average to 23 extra days in reading and 63 extra days in math compared with traditional public schools in the city.  Researchers controlled for poverty, race, special education and unions.  But what role did parental choice play in the outcomes? Until I see evidence about the latter, I remain skeptical.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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