by Susan Darst Williams
ANSWER #1 for NEBRASKA: CHARTER SCHOOLS
Everyone agrees that it’s unacceptable to have significantly higher percentages of low-income kids who drop out or are in remedial classes in the Omaha Public Schools, and significantly lower percentages of them in honors classes.
Everyone agrees that the push by OPS to take over the suburban districts of Ralston, Millard and eventually Elkhorn is a mess.
Everyone agrees that it’s too bad the parents who want to keep their Class I country schools going don’t have an alternative to a big, expensive, draining petition drive.
So here’s the answer: charter school legislation.
Doesn’t it make you itchy that Nebraska is one of only 10 states in the country that hasn’t allowed this common-sense alternative? I was there in the 1990s when the union quashed the proposed charter-school bill, and saw the strong-arm tactics they used. Eww, eww, ewwww.
I couldn’t understand why charters didn’t go through, since everywhere they’re being tried, they’re working. They foster innovation and accountability, and serve as the answer for a lot of families whose educational needs aren’t being met by the status quo. Best of all, the little bit of competition they give the public schools is enough to kindle a little “catch-up” in them, with curricular improvements and a more quality-friendly attitude, which is great for everybody.
The union pulled out every trick in the book to try to stop the charter school that was formed in Princeton, N.J., as you can read in the “homework” link provided below. So let’s learn from that and be ready for the union’s opposition . . . and get a group of Nebraska state senators with some vision and some guts to get this done next legislative session, and solve those three big problems in one fell swoop.
HOW TO START A CHARTER SCHOOL
Q. If charter schools are such a great idea, how come there aren’t any in our state?
Forty states passed charter school legislation beginning in the early 1990s, and last year, according to the Fordham Foundation, there were more than 700,000 students in 3,000 charter schools around the country. Significantly higher percentages of minority and lower-income students attend charter schools than are enrolled in the traditional public schools.
In those 10 states in which charter schools are not yet allowed, it is thought that the strength of the teachers’ unions have kept them out . . . so far. Charter schools don’t have to kowtow to the union, and that’s why they find them threatening.
If you want to make charter schools legal in your state, you will have to find a skilled state senator willing to do battle with the teachers’ union lobbyists to get enough votes to get it passed. But it’s been done in 80% of the country. So go for it.
Besides enabling legislation, it takes a small, determined group of parents and teachers to form a charter school. Ironically, they find themselves battling other parents, who fear that a charter school will drain resources away from the public schools, create divisions among a community’s children, become elitist, and undermine teacher morale.
Those were the contentions working against parents in Princeton, N.J., who had tried to get better curriculum in place through the convention routes – electing a majority on the school board, presenting a petition with hundreds of signatures to beef up the math curriculum and so forth – but still couldn’t budge the teachers’ union and powers that be.
So they formed a charter in 1997, working with the New Jersey Department of Education, and 25 percent of the student body applied to get in it. A lottery system had to be devised. The charter receives $9,500 per student per year, vs. the $12,000 apiece given to the traditional public school students in Princeton. But a strong curriculum makes up that funding gap, and then some.
Results: test scores have been “spectacular”; for example, some children improved their writing skills by three years after just one year in the charter, and others advanced two years in math.
Homework: Read how the Princeton parents got their charter school going in this account by one of the founders, a theoretical physicist: