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Posted at 7:14 PM ET, 02/18/2010

No roadblocks to Va. charter schools

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Stuart D. Gibson
Reston

The Feb. 15 editorial “Charter schools in Virginia” perpetuated a major myth upon which so-called reform efforts are based. The Post claimed that Virginia’s school boards generally oppose charters because they see them as competition. If that were true, Virginia’s charter school law might need revamping. But it’s not true.

Virginia has few charter schools because Virginians generally support the existing public schools. They know that local school boards are open to innovation and don’t see a need to create large parallel structures outside the system, as exists in the District, Arizona, Florida and California — where charters fail at alarming rates.

Since the law was enacted, Virginia’s school boards have considered 16 charter school applications — and granted 10. This reflects thoughtful consideration of each application, not “general opposition” to all. One of the six rejected applications came in Fairfax. There, the superintendent and school board worked with the applicants to create a program within the existing public schools that uses essential elements of the proposal and effectively serves three times as many students for the same money. The parents did not need to create a charter school to achieve the innovations they sought.

The Virginia School Boards Association, which represents all 134 Virginia school boards, helped write the Virginia charter school law. We support that law, in part because it ensures that elected and appointed school boards have the authority to hold charter operators accountable for student learning — just like any other public school.

The writer is a member of the Fairfax County School Board and serves as immediate past president of the Virginia School Boards Association.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | February 18, 2010; 7:14 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Virginia, schools  
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Comments

Mr. Gibson is absolutely correct in what he states in this article. Not only did Fairfax come up with an alternative to the charter school proposal (at a substantial savings over what the charter would have cost the county) but the charter process was also supported by much staff time and effort to assure that the charter application was given the best opportunity to succeed. Fairfax has always tried to do what is best for the students and has been able to do so because of (mostly) adequate funding. Will this continue to be the case?

Posted by: raydiroll | February 19, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Actually, Mr. Gibson suffers from a selective memory. For five years those parents asked the school system to incorporate their program, and for five years they were told no. Only after six months of work,developing a budget that would have cost the school system no more than they were then spending, and submitting a 120-page charter application that the Board was on the verge of approving did FCPS reverse course.

Without the charter school option, those parents would never have gotten what was needed for their children.

Posted by: cbraunlich | February 19, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Braunlich's comments argue in favor of the present charter school law, which works. As the initial letter said, the Virginia School Boards Association supports the existing law, and provides resources to school boards and charter school applicants to improve the quality of applications. It is ironic that Mr. Braunlich wants to change the law when he has acknowledged the poor quality of many charter school applications.

Posted by: Tzedek2 | February 20, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse

If Tzedek2 is going to quote me he (or she) could at least have read the piece in which I acknowledged that many charter school applications are of poor quality -- in that same piece I argued that it was because of the poor quality of the charter school law -- which focuses on inputs, rather than outcomes; contains requirements that are too often vague and lack specificity; fails to demand quality-centered metrics, and inadequately describes expectations.

The law written by the VSBA prevents charter schools from operating as independent public schools – with the result that quality, nationally-recognized charter school operators like KIPP Academies, Aspire Schools, and Amistad Academy choose not to come to Virginia.

It fosters hostility by local School Boards by keeping the process restrictive and discouraging cooperation and collaboration between those who want to start a charter to help at-risk kids and the school system – with the result that many charter applications are poorly written and home-grown quality charters never get off the ground.

Posted by: cbraunlich | February 20, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

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