Why not every school a charter school?

Monday, January 18, 2010

The conservative Nebraska think-tank Platte Institute has plenty of ammunition in making an argument for charter schools in Nebraska.

According to the executive summary for a study, "Race to the Top -- Can We Compete: Nebraska's Charter School Initiative," only about a third, 35.8 percent, of Nebraska's fourth and eighth graders are proficient in reading and math. That includes 45 percent who are not poor, 20 percent who are poor, fewer than 16 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of Blacks.

Although more Nebraska students than ever are taking core academic courses, only 29 percent of White students met ACT benchmarks in English, reading, math and science, 12 percent Hispanics and 7 percent Blacks.

Despite the state's 90 percent high school graduation rate, only 66.7 percent of graduates enter college within a year, less than half of all Nebraska college freshmen complete college degrees, and 50.7 percent of White students, 32.5 Hispanic and 32.4 percent of Black students complete degrees.

Vicki E. Murray, PhD, who wrote the executive summary, noted that nationwide, charter schools, which are freed from some regulation in exchange for meeting specific goals, enroll a disproportionate number of minority and low-income students who otherwise would be likely to drop out.

But one of the main reasons the report cites for establishing charter schools is that without them, Nebraska is at a competitive disadvantage for federal "Race to the Top" funds, estimated at as much as $75 million for the state.

Race to the Top is only one of many federal programs attempting to influence Nebraska policy, but we are unconvinced dividing already limited local educational resources is the answer, especially in regions like Southwest Nebraska.

How much better it would be to free every school to pursue teaching methods that are effective in that particular school.

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