New charter schools help few students

Originally published in The Baltimore Sun

By Alison Perkins-Cohen
Published January 4, 2006

The column "Road map to better schools" (Opinion Commentary, Dec. 27) correctly expresses frustration with the efficacy of education reform efforts in Baltimore and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the antidote the writers offer to the piecemeal efforts that have been tried to date is equally disjointed.

One reform the column mentions as a key to success is charter schools.

Charter schools can offer some individual successes. Unfortunately, many students and families cannot or will not participate in school choice options such as charter schools.

In Chicago's experiment with school choice, for instance, only half the students took advantage of the opportunity to participate in school choice - the other half stayed at their neighborhood school.

More important, Chicago's experience indicated that the outcome of the lottery (whether the student was admitted to his or her chosen school) had no impact on student educational outcomes.

What was important was whether the student participated in the lottery at all - lottery participants were much more likely to graduate from high school.

Students who are motivated enough to enter charter school lotteries are our most successful students. They deserve high-quality education options.

However, those students who have not been high performers - and, as such, are unlikely to take advantage of charters - are entitled to equally sound education opportunities.

The creation of new charter schools will not address the needs of these students. The reform and revitalization of existing schools is a better option.

Failing schools can become successful schools through the adoption of scientifically based curriculum, increased instructional time and effective professional development for teachers.

Examples of this kind of success exist right here in Baltimore.

What's more, this approach to educational reform is both replicable and inclusive of all students.

Alison Perkins-Cohen

The writer is executive director of the Baltimore Curriculum Project Inc.