Charter School Students Fight the WEA in Olympia

Students from charter schools throughout the Puget Sound testified before the state legislature in Olympia Tuesday, recounting stories of how their fledgling schools have already changed their lives.

This from Kate Stringer of The Seventy Four:

While charter school critics said charter academic gains aren’t better than those of traditional public schools, charter parents, students and educators shared anecdotal testimony otherwise. They talked about how these schools have made a drastic difference in their lives.

Students said their charter schools prepared them for college, offered support from teachers, small class sizes and an enthusiasm for learning they hadn’t found in public schools.

“I’m starting to get even more prepared for college,” said sixth-grader Sicily Johnson, who attends Destiny Charter Middle School in Tacoma. After a pause she leaned forward into the microphone and added, “and I’m getting a little bit better in academics. It is important to help us now because we are running out of time to save charter schools.”

Parents with multiple children shared how charter and traditional public schools served their family’s different needs.

“For my family, it is not about district public schools versus charter public schools,” said charter school parent Danielle Davis. “It is about what is the best possible solution for my children.”

Representatives from the Washington Education Association (WEA) gave testimony as well, continuing to trumpet the "traditional school model" as effective and in need of protection even as the data shows repeatedly that low-income students and students of color are being failed by the current system.

During public testimony, the teachers union said it opposed both bills, arguing that public schools have also proven they can offer the diverse innovation charter advocates say are unique to their educational models.

Charter opponents, who successfully sued to outlaw the schools,  also urged state lawmakers to focus instead on resolving a court order involving statewide funding equity brought on by the so-called McCleary lawsuit.

“With the McCleary issue still not addressed, we respectfully ask that this session focus on the following: That the legislature’s time and attention be focused on implementing a plan to fully fund public schools so that all of Washington’s 1.1 million students can get the quality education they deserve,” said Lucinda Young, a representative from the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

The heart of the issue is getting lost in the rhetoric. In an ideal world, the public education system would be serving all students so well that there would simply be no need for any alternative. But as so many Puget Sound parents demonstrate in choosing to send their children to private schools, the prevailing belief is that the free public education available up the block is not the best possible education for every student.

Charter schools exist to offer all students what the current system only offers to the privileged: a choice.

Offering students no alternative to a school that is statistically likely to fail them is a civil rights violation. Meanwhile, the teachers union is fighting tooth and nail to perpetuate the system that produces this inequity, fighting to close down the state's eight fledgling charter schools even as their students are raising their voices and asking for help.

The battle to save charter schools is about more than just the students currently enrolled and the schools whose doors are already open. It is a battle to get ourselves to look in the mirror, admit that the current system isn't working for everyone, and to do something about it.