Achievement in U.S. elementary schools lags behind many industrialized countries. The U.S. comes in16th in science and 23rd in math. Our major economic competitors -- China, Japan, Canada, Germany and Korea -- are far ahead. So why is it so hard for us to implement new approaches that will improve our kids’ performance?
In spite of a number of innovative proposals for reform put forth by concerned legislators, my home state of Louisiana ranks at or near the bottom in every national survey of educational achievement. House education committee chairman Steve Carter, from Baton Rouge, has been in the forefront of some of these proposals. In addition to other initiatives, he’s a major proponent of charter schools.
Charter schools are independent public schools that are not constrained by the statewide one-size-fits-all requirements often placed on local schools. Charter schools are able to be more innovative in developing curricula, hiring teachers, and structuring the school day.
A key benefit of charter schools is that parents have a choice. They pick the school and are not forced into making their kids attend a specific local school. In just about everything else you do, there’s a choice. But not in where your kid goes to school. Choice fosters competition. For many, the lack of competition is a key component in the weakness of the American educational system. To be successful, schools have to compete. That’s the key to charter schools. To be successful, they have to compete. And the students are the beneficiaries.
I saw first hand how successful charter schools can be in New York last week. My oldest daughter Campbell was honored at a dinner for her work in support of the Success Academy Charter Network. A thousand people turned out for the gathering with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush as the keynote speaker. The event raised nine million dollars.
To show how successful charters can be, Success Academy has opened 32 schools for 9,000 students. And get this. The student achievement is remarkable. Students at Success Academy ranked in the top 1 percent of all New York schools in math, and the top 7 percent in English. The racial makeup always comes up, doesn’t it? Only 3 percent of the kids are white. So much for not being able to close the racial achievement gap. As Campbell told the crowd, “demography is not destiny.”
She did not mince words to those who, in many states like Louisiana, continue to try to put up roadblocks to stop the growth of charter schools. “It’s a fight,” Campbell told the crowd last week. “We have to fight for these schools. I wish we didn’t. It amazes me that there could be anything controversial about the achievements of these extraordinary kids. It amazes me that anyone would dare try to choke one of the most exciting, innovative things happening in public education.”
And she answered some critics who say that all kids cannot attend charter schools. “No one is saying that every public school student should be moved into a charter. All we say is that the excellence of our charters should be moved into every public school.”
So it took a girl raised in Ferriday, Louisiana to go to the Big Apple and lead the charge for public school reform. Yes, this is a proud papa talking. But you cannot argue with success.
Right now, in the Louisiana legislature, there is an effort to curtail and limit the growth of charter schools. What a mistake this would be. Campbell put it this way. “You can tell who’s on the losing side of an issue when what they fear most is competition. By saving children and giving them a chance, these schools remind everyone what these kids are being saved from-an education system that has lost its way.”