Chalk It Up for Charters

Article excerpt

Charter schools around the country have waiting lists, but states aren't making it easy for advocates of the movement to open new ones.

The charter-school movement is booming and making a significant impact on public education, according to recent reports on the movement. A study released in February by the White House showed the number of charter schools nationwide increased by 40 percent during the 1998-99 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.) 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.

"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,'" says Joe Nathan, a professor at the University of Minnesota who helped write the nation's first charter-school law, passed in 1991 in Minnesota.

Charter schools, intended to promote creative approaches to teaching children, are publicly funded and privately run. The schools have enjoyed remarkable bipartisan support, a feat that "has astonished supporters and stunned opponents," says Nathan, an inner-city public-school teacher and author of a book on the subject. "The charter-school 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, describes them as customer-friendly. "I think that in innercity 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," says Hawkins-Bush, whose 208-student school has a waiting list. …