Saturday, July 30, 2011

It's Getting Difficult to Open Good, New Schools in California

Julia Brownley, Chairwoman of the California Assembly's Education Committee, presumably means well in presenting her latest package of education bills (AB 360, AB 440, and SB 645), but Californians would be better served if she and her supporters would take more long vacations.

While 360 and 645 are nuisances, providing yet more reasons for educators to be distracted from serving their students because of the demands of regulators, 440 is the real charter killer. AB 440 would require charter schools to serve student populations similar to those served by local public schools, or to the neighborhoods in which the charter schools are located, or to serve special populations specifically identified in their charters, to be verified at the time of their charters' renewals. This might sound flexible and reasonable, but in practice it will freeze into law the principle that charter schools are not allowed to compete with private schools and magnet schools; they must either be local comprehensives or alternative schools, in California.

Local comprehensives and alternative schools are models that we need, the former in particular in primary and rural education, the latter in densely concentrated areas with large enough populations to make these schools' existences viable. But a real market for strictly college-preparatory education exists, and is served currently by numerous private schools and magnet schools. One World Secondary School is envisioned as a charter school with a magnet international school, capable of competing with expensive private schools, embedded inside it, as an aspiration for as many comprehensive school students of all creeds and colors to qualify to attend and succeed at as possible. But Ms. Brownley's legislation would make this school, which I would like for my own child, many other parents would want for their own children, and the system as a whole should want to at least try for its own good, to see if competition from a replicable model can fundamentally shake up our current approach to secondary education and give us a real chance to compete successfully with other nations and their secondary schools, impossible.

If she has her way, not only will my family, and countless other middle class families, suffer, from the loss of a freedom in a state with vanishing dreams; gifted, poor students, like many I used to teach at Locke High School, who cannot afford private schools and are dissatisfied with their current alternatives, will suffer too, thanks to a Democrat who might claim to be standing up for the poor and disenfrachised but is actually legislating to make sure that those students remain locked into local ghetto schools, with little chance of escaping.

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