Guest Editorial

Charter schools work


The fate of education reform hangs in the balance. Under pressure from the teachers' union, lawmakers limited the number of charter schools in New York to 100, a cap that's now been reached. It's the special interests vs. the children - will legislators raise the cap?

Nationwide, normal public schools aren't getting any better, despite a dramatic rise in funding. Something's wrong that money won't cure. Since 1990, almost 200,000 students in the fourth and eighth grades have taken proficiency tests in reading and math. In 15 years, reading scores are up just half a percent; math results, a mere 4 percent. Meanwhile, education spending has boomed: adjusted for inflation, from $7,143 per student in 1990 to an estimated $9,062 in 2005.

The obstacles the teachers' union puts in the way of educational progress - opposition to merit-based pay, blind support for incompetent but tenured teachers, shackling principals with rigid work rules - doom our public schools to mediocrity.

But charter schools work well. Consider a few facts about places where charters have gotten a fairshot. New York's 79 operating charter schools serve 22,000 students - and their records are better, often a great deal better, than public schools as a whole. In 8th grade, two-thirds of New York charters outperformed the other schools in their district in English and in math. In the 4th grade, three-quarters did better than other schools in the district in math; 51 percent excelled in English. Where public-school students statewide posted a 9 percent gain in proficiency from 2004 to 2005, charter kids gained 17 percent.

In California, 4th-grade students at charters are 8.5 percent more likely to be proficient in reading and 5 percent more likely to make the grade in math, than their conventional-school counterparts.

In Washington, D.C., whose charter schools get one-third less funding than regular schools, charter students are still 12 percent more likely to be proficient in reading and 13 percent in math than standard-school students, a recent Harvard study found.

In Michigan, 38 percent of charter students met state math standards in tests, vs. only 31 percent of all students; in reading, 63 percent of charter kids vs. 60 percent of all students.

Teachers unions wage a non-stop campaign of disinformation about charter schools. But the data - from the Center for Educational Reform - don't lie. When charter schools get funding comparable to other public schools, and when they can draw their students from the general student population, charter performance leaves traditional schools in the dust.

The message to Albany, N.Y. and other state capitals: Raise the cap.

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years.


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