Education Should Be Customized to Meet Students' Needs; Charter Schools Offer Needed Reforms
Byline: Peter Roff, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
America has become the great nation it is because of its traditions, its values and its constitutional foundations. It is also great because, though the Constitution does not specifically mention it, the people decided at one point to make a priority out of giving every child access to education.
For a nation built of immigrants, this was an important, even seminal, decision. Each generation, whether born in the United States or brought here by ship, plane or train, must learn (in addition to reading, writing and arithmetic) what it means to be an American.
This imperative has helped homogenize our culture for the good, creating a uniform understanding of U.S. citizenship. Unfortunately, the system of free public education tasked with that responsibility has its antecedents in the 19th century and is not sufficient to meet the needs of a 21st-century nation firmly integrated into the global economy. To put it simply, one size no longer fits all. In the age of charter schools, education choice, distance learning and the Internet, it doesn't need to.
It is possible to customize learning programs in ways that were unthinkable even 20 years ago. Nevertheless, the educational establishment remains wedded to the current system and is unwilling to think outside the box when looking for reforms and improvements. Charter schools - primary or secondary schools that receive public money but are not subject to the same rules, regulations and statutes that apply to other public schools - are a particularly intriguing choice. Operated by teachers, parents, nonprofit groups, universities or corporations and often offering a specialized field of instruction, they provide an alternative to the rigidity of the current K-12 educational structure.
They also typically provide a better education, which is why the competition for enrollment is so intense. Many communities in which they operate are forced to hold lotteries to determine who may attend. More parents than there are available spaces see them as opportunities for their children to receive a quality education of the kind not available in the normal course of affairs.
In Chester, Pa., a formerly thriving manufacturing community just outside Philadelphia, the Chester Community Charter School, which started with fewer than 100 students in 1998, has more than 3,000 spread across nine buildings. …