Article excerpt

Charter schools are worth a try

Few people do much carping about the quality of suburban public schools. In general, these schools produce students who perform well academically and earn admission to top colleges and universities.

Nonetheless, many people believe schools could educate students even more effectively if they were freed from the many rules and regulations that govern them.

With that in mind, the General Assembly is poised to authorize the creation of 45 charter schools throughout Illinois - 15 in Chicago, 15 in the suburbs and 15 downstate.

These schools will not be fully exempted from all state rules or regulations. But they will have wide latitude in many matters, including curriculum, school calendar and teacher hiring and compensation. Moreover, they will give parents and other members of the community a larger voice in deciding how the schools are run.

Charter schools are worth trying in Illinois, if only because these concepts - diminished state control, increased local control and an enhanced role for those outside the education establishment - seem to hold promise.

Whether this different, looser and more community-based structure will translate into improved education remains to be seen, and that, of course, is how charter schools will be judged. Several other states are experimenting with charter schools, but these experiments are still in their early stages and so far are inconclusive.

The Illinois Education Association, which represents teachers throughout the state, has suggested its own version of reform, which it calls "partnership schools." The advantage of the IEA model is that it would give all schools - not just a few - a chance for increased innovation. The drawback is that avenues for innovation would be restricted by the IEA's more rigid adherence to existing teacher certification and collective bargaining laws.

While continuing to study the IEA's idea, legislators should give their OK now to 45 charter schools, which should then be watched carefully by everyone interested in better education for our young people. …