Charter Schools Have Positive Impacts, Two Reports Find

Article excerpt

The charter school movement is booming nationwide and making significant and positive impacts on public education, two new reports on the movement have found.

A report released yesterday by the White House showed the number of charter schools nationwide increased by 40 percent in the 1998-1999 school year, with 250,000 students enrolled at such schools in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

About 53.2 million students attend public schools nationwide.

"At a time when some educators are saying we really can't do much better with these kids, the charter school movement says: `Wrong. We can do a lot better and we are putting our jobs on the line to say we can do better,' " said Joe Nathan, a professor at the University of Minnesota who helped write the nation's first charter school law, passed in 1991 in Minnesota.

The U.S. Department of Education report found that seven out of 10 charter schools had waiting lists for students. Median enrollment at charter schools was 137 students, compared with 475 students at public schools in the same states. Eighteen percent of all charter schools were public schools that converted to charters.

Charter schools are publicly funded and privately run, and are intended to promote creative approaches to teaching children.

"Neither a Republican nor a Democratic idea," they were founded at the grass-roots level without foundation funding, Mr. Nathan said. The schools have enjoyed remarkable bipartisan support, a feat that "has astonished supporters and stunned opponents," he added.

"It taps into hope, which is one of the central values of the United States," said Mr. Nathan, an inner-city public school teacher and author of a 1999 book on the charter schools. "The charter schools movement says if you've got an idea about how to do it better, here's the chance to try it.

Gail Hawkins-Bush, principal of the Alliance for Progress Charter School, one of 24 charter schools operating in Philadelphia, says the reason they are succeeding is because they are "customer-friendly."

"I think that in inner-city communities, the personalized approach to education is a way to combat some of the inequities that our children have suffered through large class size and all of the injustices society has prevailed on our young people," said Mrs. Hawkins-Bush, whose 208-student school has a waiting list.

"It's not just economics," she says of charter school popularity. …