The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

November 24, 2012

State aggravates charter school problems

Monday night the Selinsgrove school board flatly rejected an application by a group interested in establishing a charter school serving students from Selinsgrove and two neighboring districts. It was strike three -- Lewisburg and Mifflinburg had already rebuffed the charter group. It was the second time that the Mifflinburg school board rejected the idea.

It is highly unlikely that the charter school will ever successfully convince a public school district to approve it.

First, there is simply no incentive for a public school board to give its blessing to a venture that will take students and money away from the public schools.

Second, an objective observer would have legitimate concerns about sanctioning a charter school as a worthwhile alternative to the public school system. Charter schools are, by definition, intended to use some sort of innovation to differentiate themselves from conventional public schools.

The most common charter school innovation is the use of computers for long-distance instruction. For reasons unclear to anyone, the state made it easier for cyber-charter schools to open by having the state Department of Education manage the approval process rather than local school districts.

The results have been tremendously underwhelming.

Last year, of the 160 cyber-charter schools in the state, only 77 made adequate yearly progress.

But even among brick-and-mortar charter schools, the plan ought to give some credible reason to suggest that the school's organizers believe they have developed a concept that will do better than the cross-town public school. In New Berlin, organizers have mostly focused on embracing a small-school concept with low student-to-teacher ratios, along with universal use of team-teaching strategies.

It is a free country -- and private schools exist that market themselves as alternatives to public schools without using tax dollars for instructional purposes. A publicly funded alternative school should be expected to meet or, more promisingly, exceed the same standards as traditional public schools.

The organizers of the charter school concept have been dealt a difficult hand. It makes no sense that the school would need the approval of people who would rightly consider it competition. Yet even if the approval process were reformed, the state's mismanagement of the charter-school concept has provided little reason to believe that charter schools will work.

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