School Choice; Why Vouchers and Charter Schools Are Needed

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 22, 2002 | Go to article overview

School Choice; Why Vouchers and Charter Schools Are Needed


Byline: Deborah Simmons, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

What's wrong with this picture? Teachers at Pacific Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles face disciplinary action for implementing a zero-tolerance policy that allows them to flunk a student after six unexcused absences. Or how about this one? In the midst of a huge deficit because of overspending on special education, D.C. officials are hesitant to establish charter schools solely for special-education students. Then, there is the battle before the U.S. Supreme Court on school vouchers. Get the picture now?

Indeed, the very fact that the highest court in the land is considering the Ohio voucher program has the one-size-fits-all proponents of public schooling shaking in their boots - and rightly so. The teachers' unions, the Teamsters and other unions feel threatened because a favorable ruling by the court will likely mean fewer dollars in their coffers and, more importantly, less political clout on the federal, state and local levels.

On the upside, though, a favorable ruling would underscore parents' clamoring for not merely more choice, but a quality education for their children - which, after all, is the point of school reform.

Consider the mess at Pacific Palisades charter school. Some parents try hard to sniff out their teens' tendencies to cut class, often understanding their rite of passage to feign sickness and skip school. And, Lord knows, there is barely a public high school in a major urban area that isn't plagued by absenteeism. So, Pacific Palisades began instituting a sensible policy: If a student is habitually absent - unless, of course, he has a chronic illness - then his teacher gives him an F.

But, oh no, said the Los Angeles Unified School District. The teachers can't do that, because that standard is not listed in Pacific Palisades' charter. So, even students who routinely and deliberately miss class must be allowed to make up the academic consequences regardless of unexcused absences. That means teachers have been ordered to reverse the grades for undeserving students. Beyond being blatantly unfair to students who regularly attend class, the school system's ruling undermines one of the most profound aspects of charter schools - the absence of bureaucratic red tape that practically strangles traditional schools.

It is quite obvious that the L.A. school district must grant Pacific Palisades a waiver and change its own policies regarding student absenteeism for the children's sake.

Now, look at D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), where vouchers and charter schools have taken on new meaning. For two decades, D.C. taxpayers have been paying exorbitant sums, sometimes upwards of $40,000 per student per school year, to send special-education students to other states - sometimes as far away as Delaware - because DCPS can't do the job. Moreover, even those students who are bused to schools within the city's borders are often late for class or late getting home, or their parents are up in arms about their lack of academic progress. …

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