Opinion

Charter schools vs. the 500-pound gorilla | Firearms Lawyer

The Federal Way School District recently conducted a public forum that focused on the achievement gap and equity. The gap is the difference between the academic achievement of Hispanic and African American children compared to Asian and non-minority students. A district employee made some initial comments, then they formed us into small groups. There were representatives from the school district at each table.

The fact that the Federal Way Public Academy (FWPA) is, in many people’s minds, a little like a charter school, raises the issue of how charter schools could help close the achievement gap and thereby create more “equity.” Almost 80 percent of tenth-graders who are black or Hispanic are below Washington State’s standards for math and science.

At FWPA, the achievement gap is virtually nonexistent.

People at more than one table were talking about why they never heard about the FWPA and why we don’t have another FWPA. The one we have now is the only secondary school in Federal Way rated exemplary by the Washington State Board of Education. Most FWPA students succeed, regardless of race and without additional expense to the taxpayers.

At the meeting, some of us started to talk about charter schools and the FWPA.

A few of us began to ask ourselves whether a gorilla might be hiding in the meeting somewhere. There actually was a 500-pound gorilla in the room: the teachers union. Organized labor has been hostile to charter schools and the Federal Way Public Academy ever since it was conceived. The Washington Education Association (WEA) was shouting louder than any of us could — and didn’t even open its mouth during the forum.

One of the things I learned during a recent visit with Superintendent Robert Neu is that the district gets along well with the teachers union. I told the superintendent that I could share a prison cell with a 500-pound gorilla and also get along fine — provided I did everything my cellmate told me to do with a smile on my face.

Many of our state’s legislators oppose charter schools or anything that even looks like a charter school. There are currently several bills before the Legislature for “innovation schools.”

The WEA has consistently come out against them in spite of the governor’s endorsement of these as a “substitute” for charter schools. The lack of charter schools is clearly a contributing factor to why our state’s application for federal “Race to the Top” funds has been a nonstarter. Charter schools exist in 40 states and in Washington, D.C.

Charter schools make it possible for parents to make choices. Educational choice takes power and resources away from educational bureaucrats.

The FWPA is successful because kids who apply have to be paying close attention to the application or have parents who are paying attention. Additionally, parents have to be committed because they have to transport their children to the FWPA.

Go to the Educational Services Center and get an application. Submit it before the Feb. 28 deadline if you want your child to have a shot at the FWPA in September 2011. Your child’s name will go into a drawing for an education lottery.

Closing the achievement gap means someone is going to get hurt. It will either be the school district or the union that feels the pain.

For now, it’s the kids who hurt the most.

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