According to USCharterSchools.org there are 2,695 charter schools operating in the United States serving the needs of almost a quarter million children. Virginia only has eight, which are all public conversions.
If charter schools were such a bad thing for our children would there be a 15 percent increase in growth over the last year alone? The answer is no. They would be shrinking because parents would not be transferring their out of traditional government schools. Unless of course you believe that most parents aren’t inclined to do what’s best for their children.
A Manhattan Institute for Policy Research study of charter schools serving general student populations found that; “In Texas, charter schools achieved year-to-year math score improvements 0.18 standard deviations higher than those of comparable regular public schools, and reading score improvements 0.19 standard deviations higher.
These benefits are equivalent to 7 and 8 percentile points, respectively, from the 50th percentile. Florida charter schools achieved year-to-year math and reading score improvements that were each 0.15 standard deviations greater than those of nearby regular public schools, equivalent to a gain of 6 percentile points for a student starting at the 50th percentile.”
A vote is rapidly approaching that will determine if the Prince William Linguistics Academy can move to the next phase and enter into negotiations with the school system and contractors in the creation of Prince William County’s first charter school. However, many folks seem hell-bent in swaying public opinion to oppose this step.
I don’t know what their personal agendas are, but I fail to understand why they fear allowing the application to progress to the next phase. Charter schools are held completely accountable to the school system. If at any time the charter school does not maintain its end of the contract it can be shut down, as many have been throughout the nation. In fact, as of 2001, a total of 86 charter schools have been forced to shut their doors.
On the other hand, those that operate according to the strict and detailed charter laws and regulations, frequently benefit the children and communities they serve. Not only are their test scores higher but they end up costing the system (i.e. taxpayer) less, while simultaneously providing much needed competition and an alternative for students that have difficulties in traditional schools.
It is sometimes easier to read paperwork, and assume that it tells the whole story than to open a dialog with someone and discover the facts. In this light I took the time this week to discuss with PWLA Board member Trent Barton some of the issues that have been brought up on the Potomac News opinion page over the past several weeks.
In discussing the subject with Mr. Barton, I found out some disappointing facts.
When the application was initially submitted to the school staff in July, they determined that it was inadequate due to the fact that the budget didn’t conform to their requirements. However, they made no attempt to work with Dr. Harris and the PWLA staff, even though Prince William County School regulations (R155-1) require their cooperation.
Well I guess I can’t say that it is required. What it specifically states is that “The area associate superintendent for the school’s location will be available to respond to questions from the applicant in preparation of the application.”
It says nothing about the person having to respond, just to be available to respond.
The application was reformatted and resubmitted on October 2002, and it still was not adequate for the school board. The PWLA asked on three separate occasions for guidance on what the school staff required in order for the application to be in line with what they expected, with no response.
This is not to say that the staff completely ignored correspondence from the PWLA board. Communication was amiable, but the fact is no one would provide board members with a further explanation of what changes would make the application acceptable to Prince William County.
The application, as it was written, not only addressed the 14 points required by the state of Virginia, but four additional points required by Prince William County.
This past Thursday, Lucy Beauchamp met with three members of the PWLA and finally provided them with three pages of major issues she has with the application. This is only one month prior to the vote, even though she has had access to the application for over a year. Personally I think that is irresponsible and unprofessional.
I am running out of space but I wanted to address one last item regarding the number of classrooms in the school. I have been told that the plans that have been submitted are only the first phase of the construction. These include 18 classrooms with an additional 18 to be designed and submitted at a later date.
I believe this is not uncommon when constructing other facilities throughout the county. It does not mean that the school will open for business at full capacity with only half the number of classrooms necessary to hold those students.
It would be unfortunate if we lose an opportunity to provide a quality alternative for students due to the political agendas of some folks who really don’t want the government school system to have any competition.
James Simpson lives in Lake Ridge. His home in cyberspace is http://www.jamessimpson.org.