No Cheating on Charters We Must Be Honest about the Performance of Our Schools

By Oliphant, Grant | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

No Cheating on Charters We Must Be Honest about the Performance of Our Schools


Oliphant, Grant, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Wouldn't we all love to respond to a disappointing performance review by changing the measuring tool to give us a better result? Many of us would joyfully toss the bathroom scale out the window in favor of one that knocked off 10 pounds. How about moving the end zone five yards closer so our favorite wide receiver could catch the game-winning throw?

Unfortunately, that's not how things work -- unless you are Pennsylvania Education Secretary Ron Tomalis and you are not pleased with the number of charter schools making Adequate Yearly Progress, the standard set by the No Child Left Behind Act.

In 2011, Mr. Tomalis allowed charter schools to use a more lenient measure to achieve AYP. The result was that 77 of the 156 charter schools in Pennsylvania whose students took the 2012 PSSA math and reading tests met the AYP standard.

Then the federal Department of Education intervened, ruling that Pennsylvania must use the same measure for charter schools as it did for all other public schools. Only 43 made AYP.

A Post-Gazette editorial published Jan. 27 ("Sub-par Options: Charter Schools as a Class Don't Measure Up") delivered a strongly worded rebuke to the Corbett administration for engaging in this kind of tomfoolery and thinking that Pennsylvanians were not paying attention.

I completely agree. What's more, I am dismayed at the disservice that was perpetrated upon the charter school movement, which I believe serves an important role in contemporary public education.

In its original form, charters were designed to increase competition, foster innovation and give parents a choice when their children were not receiving an adequate education from traditional public schools. The promise of creating a vast network of laboratories for innovation remains largely unfulfilled, but much can be learned from experiments like Pittsburgh's City Charter High School and the Environmental Charter School that might improve the quality of education for all Pennsylvania children. This will never happen, though, if decision-makers randomly re-invent the rules to justify their ideology.

I believe in charters as an idea, but our system of public education and the children it serves are not pawns to be manipulated in a political game. …

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