Thursday, November 10, 2005

As a teacher in a charter school, I enthusiastically support the charter school movement. There is something so inspirational in seeing parents and teachers come together to create what they think will be the ideal school for their students. My school is only in its sixth year and every day I walk the halls and marvel at how the school's founders created this marvelous school out of nothing more than their determination to found some place very special. I wish that more and more people could see what is going on in these charter schools and get that same inspiration.

And now you have that opportunity because the wonderful edu-bogger, Joanne Jacobs, has published a book looking at one charter school and all its travails and successes. If you've read her blog at all, you know that she has been chronicling news and insights about education for about four years now. And during that time she has been following the story of Downtown College Prep in San Jose, California. This charter school caters to a mostly Mexican-American immigrant population. The average student enters 9th grade reading at a 5th grade level. And 100% of them have been accepted to a four-year college with 97% of them enrolling.

Read her book to find out what these hard-working teachers have been doing to achieve this success. What comes through from my conversations with Joanne is that, in addition to the deep dedication that these teachers and administrators have to their students, is the tremendous flexibility that they have as a charter school to experiment and find out what works the best for their particular students. If something wasn't working, they could toss it out and try something else. I've worked in regular public schools and, believe me, it just doesn't work like that. You have to fill out reports and collect data and convince someone downtown that it is good for you to institute a new program or switch a funding line from here to there. But a charter school's great strength is the ability to make decisions right there at the school level.

I'm very excited about Joanne's book, Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea, and the School That Beat the Odds, because I hope more and more people will read about the success of Downtown College Prep and be inspired. I hope that such stories will convince people that charter schools are wonderful opportunities to reform our school systems and explore experimental ideas in education to find out what works best for which particular population. Sure, some charter schools will fail. But then those schools will shut down. When is the last time you heard of a failing regular public school shutting down when it failed its students? That possibility of failure concentrates the mind wonderfully.

I think it's a splendid thing that a education reporter like Joanne would quit her regular job to follow the progress of one charter school and report on how it achieved the success it has. I wish more reporters would look at what is happening in these schools so that politicians would realize what great possibilities are out there. In North Carolina, we have a cap of only 100 charter schools in the entire state. I believe we're now in the high 90s so those people dedicated enough to put the work in to create new charters are blocked by the obduracy of my state's legislators. Our school does a lot with inviting local politicians to talk to our students and our kids often ask the legislators about lifting the cap on charters and we always get some mumbo jumbo about how they like charters but they just want to wait some more time to see more results and how they worry about those schools that might fail. Well, what about all the public schools already failing? Grrrrr. Maybe if they all read Joanne's book they would realize that the charter movement is one way to let loose the many dedicated people there are out there who would love to work in schools that are not bound up by red tape and bureaucracy.