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February 7, 2012 at 2:53 PM

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Adding color to the education reform debate

My latest column encourages people of color to engage in the education reform debate. While I use charter schools as an example, reform-inspired changes to federal, state and local education laws go beyond autonomy in some public schools.

According to OSPI, most of the budget cuts coming in our state will directly impact students of color and students in poverty, at the same time that we're in the bottom 5 states in the nation for how well our public schools are addressing the needs of students of color. This 2008 state report gives a sense of the challenges facing our state's educational system. U.S. Census figures point to Washington as one of the fastest browning states in the nation. We're in the bottom 5 states in the nation for how well our public schools are addressing the needs of students of color.

diversity CNN reports that nationwide, more than 1.6 million public school students attend nearly 5,000 publicly funded, independently operated charter schools. As of 2008, African Americans made up 15 percent of students in traditional public schools, versus 29 percent of those enrolled in charter schools.

The lack of diversity in the education reform movement may be a product of geography. This story references battles in East Coast cities where traditional civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and the United Negro College Fund are facing off on opposite sides of the charter school battle.

Debate about charters suffers from the lack of an updated view. The UW's Center on Reinventing Public Education offers one here. It is worth reviewing the Stanford study and asking what's changed since then.

There is a lot of hope beyond the executive summary and the headlines. Comparing public and charter schools in Pennsylvania over a 3-year period, the study found "60% of the charter schools performed with similar or better success than the traditional public schools in reading and 53 percnet of charter schools performed with similar or better success in math compared to traditional schools. Cyber charts did significantly worse. Charter elementary school students outperformed their peers in traditional publics; but it was the exact opposite for higher grades. In the first 3 years, charter students show slower academic growth, but the gap shrinks considerably in math overtime and disappears entirely in reading by the third year. The story is less pat for Hispanic and black students with charters unhelpful to these students in math, but helpful to black students in reading growth.

This tells me that charter schools are not the solution, but one of a dozen.


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