Need further proof that charter schools are a much-needed option for Washington's students and families? Look no further than Seattle's Summit Sierra High School.
This from The Seventy Four:
Summit Sierra High School has been open just five months and its student body—one of the most diverse in Seattle—is on track to make an astounding three years’ academic growth in one year, according to school leader Malia Burns.
Before the teens arrived here, though, the only thing they had in common was the need for an alternative to their neighborhood schools. The school’s unique personalized learning model, shared by nine other Summit network schools in California and Washington, held the promise to finally meet their needs.
Then, two weeks into the school year, the Washington Supreme Court issued a decision that could close the state’s first nine charter schools. The threat has done more to unite Summit Sierra’s students and parents than all the community-building exercises in the world.
Nearly 30 percent of Seattle's children go to private school. That means almost one-third of Seattle students and their parents feel they can get a better, more appropriate education for their child outside the public school system -- and they can afford it.
But many families cannot afford private school tuition. What then? Because the data shows that Seattle's public school system is failing students of color and students from low-income backgrounds in much greater numbers than their white and/or more well-to-do peers. Yet the Washington Education Association (WEA) and many other groups and individuals are actively opposing the charter school movement.
Fighting charter schools is tantamount to saying families of modest income do not deserve the same choice that more affluent families enjoy. This leaves too many students and families with nowhere to turn.
Summit Sierra has attracted a high number of students who were unable to get their previous schools to acknowledge their learning disorders. Seattle Public Schools have been under intense state and federal scrutiny in the last three years for failing to provide appropriate special education services to disabled students.
The private schools that enroll 29 percent of the city’s school-aged children aren’t obligated to take special ed students, leaving even the wealthiest parents with few options. Charter schools in other parts of the country are frequently criticized for not doing enough to accept and educate special education students.
The neighboring Seattle Public Schools have some of the largest academic achievement gaps, with half as many black students performing at grade level in most subjects and in most years as white students. Proficiency rates for special education students are nearly as bad and scores for English language learners, even lower.
Yet resistance to change is intense. Washington became the first state in the nation to lose federal permission to shift away from No Child Left Behind when lawmakers refused to require the use of student data in teacher evaluations. The entire faculty at one high school in 2013 demanded that the student body refuse en masse to take end-of-course exams.