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Chris Braunlich's op-ed column on charter schools in Virginia
Charter school third-graders in New Jersey play a multiplication game using dice. Charter schools generally have some freedom to experiment with teaching methodologies.
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Just recently, two charter applications--one in rural Rockbridge County and one in suburban Fairfax County--were met with fierce resistance from local boards.
Despite the fact that both applications were led by public school educators with more than 200 years of combined experience, would have brought back and revitalized closed school buildings, focused on academically at-risk students, created innovative new programming, and had the enthusiastic endorsement of the Virginia State Board of Education, the applications were rejected or deferred.
Some critiques used by school system staff sounded suspiciously similar: The school wasn't where the school system wanted it. The open-enrollment lottery system wasn't rigged to ensure that selective students would be the ones winning the lottery (a process one federal official said was "inconsistent with the federal definition of a charter school"). The school division didn't like (or understand) the way the school was going to be staffed or the hours of the day that class would be in session.
These were schools that were going to offer different combinations of the successful Expeditionary Learning program, dual college enrollment programs, the national AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, a small school environment with librarians and counselors doing double-duty as teachers, and expanded or restructured school days.
Pretty innovative. Aimed specifically at children who need the help. Exactly what Virginia law (which defines charter schools as offering innovation in such areas as instruction, assessment, school scheduling, management, and structure) set out to create.
But Catch-22. They won't be approved if they're genuinely innovative because if they're genuinely innovative they don't operate like the schools that school divisions already have and understand.
MONEY AND CONTROL
Worse, there's another Catch-22 on the horizon: Federal grant funds aren't likely to flow to Virginia if school boards keep rejecting charter school applications. And without federal startup funds, charters are less likely to get off the ground.