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The Charter Puzzle

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Rather than serving exclusively to challenge the status quo, charters should be used strategically to move existing public school systems forward, writes Greg Richmond in this Education Week Commentary. To establish high-quality charter schools, he cautions, we cannot simply knock down barriers. Whereas traditional school systems tried to create equality through centralized regulation, the new system must provide innovative support mechanisms, facilitate informed school choice, protect school autonomy, and create real accountability.

What do you think? How can states and districts assure the quality of charter schools? How can the charter system work in tandem with traditional public schools to improve education in general?

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In the debate about charter schools, school choice, and evaluation of school performance, the most important factor are frequently ignored. Public schools are left to try to educate all the students left, the ones no one else cares about.

Everybody seems to forget that of all the school choices parents have, only public schools are required to accept all comers. Private schools, especially, look really good because: (1)We know the parents care about their child's education; (2) Private schools can turn away any student not wanted without question; (3) Private schools can eliminate disruptive students; (4)Neither private nor charter schools want to or are able to offer special education programs; (5) When you take away all the best students and those whose parents really care about their children's education, public schools have an imbalanced population of disruptive students, ESL students, and special education students.

And do not forget that home schooled children have parents who really care about the education of their children, and those kids are not in public schools either.

No wonder public schools appear to be unable to do the job they are tasked to do.

Pre-selection and de-selection are the two main reasons why any claims made on behalf of the "superiority" of Chicago's charter schools are not true. No matter how many times the untruths have been repeated, then still are not true. Every Chicago charter school pre-selects students and then sets continual criteria (some with parental participation requirements) that enable the school to eliminate the child (disruptive, low scoring, or whatever). That child then returns to the traditional public school, where that public school becomes responsible for the test scores (instead of the charter taking responsibility).

The laws that require public schools to take all comers also cover charter schools. Charter schools are also explicitly required to ensure the same Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students with disabilities as the public schools.

That said, it is only fair to acknowledge that there is more than one way to skin a cat--difficult students can be discouraged from a "program that doesn't meet their needs," or parents can be convinced that the law doesn't cover their student, or a student can be overlooked and ignored until they leave, or suspended or expelled in accordance with the law (or not). These behaviors are by no means unique to charter schools. You can find the same thing going on in any urban district--sometimes they even encourage parents to look at charter or private schools.

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