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Wed, May 15, 2013 1:01 PM
Charter schools have gotten a lot of bad press over the last year. School closings. Teacher videos. Investigations about school leader qualifications. Financial crises. Governance issues.
It hasn’t been good.
However, this is part of the deal with charter schools. In exchange for autonomy, there is increased accountability. Charter schools have the freedom to try new and innovative instruction and learning methods, alternatives to traditional methods and curricula. Charters are not supposed to be just like everybody else. But, as can happen with innovation, sometimes these ideas work and sometimes they don’t. When they don’t work, there is a responsibility to take action. That action is often publicized because it makes for a good headline.
But when they do work, it’s a step forward not only for charter schools, but for the entire public school system. These are the stories that I would like to share with you in honor of National Charter Schools Week, May 5-11.
Did you know, for example, that Newark Charter School and Sussex Academy in Georgetown are two of Delaware’s top schools in the K-8 sector? Have you heard about Positive Outcomes Charter School just outside of Dover, which after being identified as one of the state’s most high-need schools, adopted the Big Picture school model, making great strides for its students?
Has anyone told you about the young men at Prestige Academy who are bucking the decades-old correlation between low-income socioeconomic status and dropout rates? Or about the chess program at Thomas Edison Charter School that has improved proficiency rates in the upper grades by teaching critical thinking skills?
Have you been to the Biggs Art Museum in Dover? The Junior Docent program there is staffed by Campus Community Charter School students.
Have you heard about the Greek language curriculum at Odyssey Charter School, which is helping inform national best practice on Foreign Language for Elementary and Secondary school learning? Did you know that the top three schools in math proficiency in the City of Wilmington are charter schools? Or that three of the top four in reading proficiency in the city are charter schools?
Have you heard about the strong leadership at East Side Charter School in Wilmington, which recently invited successful African-American Delawareans – including Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams – to come and speak to the students about what it takes to succeed in school and beyond?
There are good things going on in Delaware’s charter schools. And these things are being shared across the system. For example, the partnership between the Cab Calloway School of the Arts and the Charter School of Wilmington, which share not only a building and facilities, but also a commitment to student achievement by finding effective and efficient methods to share opportunities for their students.
As well as Brandywine School District, which adopted the progressive Singapore Math program piloted by Kuumba Academy Charter School in Wilmington, which successfully utilized it to close their achievement gap. Kuumba’s teachers are working in partnership with Brandywine to help provide professional development and guidance if needed.
The charter school idea is to find best practices and then inform the system. And Delaware’s charters are ready and willing to do so.
So while, yes, Delaware’s charter schools have not all been outstanding success stories, failures are not telling the whole story. Charter school education is not without risk. But it’s a risk many are willing to take to provide choice for Delaware’s families and to give our children an excellent education that meets their needs and prepares them for the global job market that they will face as adults.
We need to change the conversation and talk about the great things that are happening and how these great things can, and are, being shared with the system so that all Delaware’s children can benefit and succeed.
Today, in honor of National Charter Schools Week, members of Delaware’s charter community – students, teachers, parents and leaders – are bringing our collective voice to Legislative Mall in Dover at noon.
We will be there to celebrate how far the charter movement has come in Delaware, and how much farther we can go.
I hope we will be heard and I encourage you to listen.
Kendall Massett, a News Journal Community View writer, is the executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.
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