This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 9, 2010 - charter choice leads to same results

There are many kinds of educational choice in Douglas County. There's public education at your local school. There's open enrollment, where you can move your child from one neighborhood public school to another. There's public education through charter schools. There's private education, whether secular or religious. There's homeschooling.

Which is right? It depends, naturally enough, on both the wishes of the parents and the needs of the child. I know from overseeing literacy programs through the years that no matter what the current educational philosophy is, it fails a consistent percentage of the student population. We don't all learn the same way, and any rigid approach to teaching inevitably misses the mark for some.

As an early advocate of charter schools, I believe in the value of experimentation. But I try to be honest about the results, too.

For instance, I don't see much press about the well researched results presented in The State of Charter Schools in Colorado: 2008-2009.

It has a lot of data, too much to summarize here. But I will quote this to give the larger context: "During the 2007-2008 school year, 141 charter schools operated in the state of Colorado. ... Charter school enrollment in 2007-2008 represented 6.9% of the total public school enrollment. If all of the charter schools were combined into an imaginary district, the enrollment of that district would be the fourth largest in the state. Of the 133 charter schools that responded to the survey, 66% of charter schools (88) stated there was a waiting list/lottery pool for their school. The average waiting list size was 462 students, ranging from two to 7,500, and the statewide total was 38,374."

In Douglas County, again in 2007-2008, there were 58,723 students in the whole district. There were 6,580 students enrolled in charter schools, a little over 11% of our total student population.

So clearly, there's an interest and a need for alternative education. But how well does it do?

The report presents school statistics by ethnicity, special needs, and details student performance in reading, writing, and math. Here's the bottom line: in most areas, charter schools are a lot like public schools. In the areas of reading and math, Colorado charter school students often do better than their public school counterparts in grades 6, 7, and 8. But that reverses in high school; they do poorer.

Homeschoolers tend to do much better in elementary years, too. But not all parents feel themselves equipped to teach higher math and physics.

Public education has a political dimension. It is the place where we want to acculturate waves of immigrants, and to forge patriotic citizens (the Pledge of Allegiance and civics), yet also to encourage critical thinking. It is the place where we wish to feed the hungry (the school lunch program). It is the place where we wish to grow public health awareness (required vaccinations, sex education, drug education). It is the place where we want to ensure the physical fitness of our young (P.E. programs). It is the place where we want to nurture and excite tomorrow's technologists (through Science/Technology/Engineering/Math programs); it is the place where we want to shelter them from the wickedness of the theory of evolution (see attempts to insert "intelligent design" into science classes).

It is a place where so much is expected, even when the expectations are profoundly self-contradictory, that success is a long shot.

In fact, I believe Douglas County has offered my children an excellent education, although I had to pay close attention.

But the truth is, America's primary and secondary public education system is quickly falling behind the rest of the world. Simply offering more "choices" that produce pretty much the same results isn't much of a plan.

Next week, I'll speak frankly about some of the other problems that come with "choice," and begin to sketch what real educational reform might look like, and why we need it.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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