May 14, 2012

Lowell Sun Editorial: "Charter schools provide more options"

May 14: Public charter schools are making their presence felt throughout Massachusetts, especially in urban school districts where families want educational choices for their children.

Last Wednesday, the Lowell Collegiate Charter School received its official charter from state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and Education Secretary Paul Reville. (Note: see related post) It was a proud day for the new school's board of directors, all of whom live in Lowell, Dracut and neighboring communities. These are people dedicated to seeing that Lowell parents and their children are no longer under-served.

There are now three public school choices: Lowell Public School System, Lowell Community Public Charter School, and Lowell Collegiate.

We believe it is time for administrators from all the schools to form alliances and strengthen the city's educational objectives and goals for its students. Such a collaborative effort would be a powerful testament to educational excellence and would serve to attract new families to the city.

For too long, in-district schools and charter schools have acted like neither existed, except at state budget hearings.

Charter schools are here to stay. We need a positive dialogue that puts kids first.

Sabis International, a for-profit group, will run Lowell's new charter school and has had outstanding success in urban settings. Its Springfield charter school, where 100 percent of its graduating students will attend college, recently received a Bronze medal ranking in the 2012 U.S. News and World Report's edition of the Nation's Best High Schools (22,000 public schools were covered).

The 600-student Innovation Academy Charter School in Tyngsboro has reported similar graduation results with all members of its 2012 class headed to a four-year college. According to Director Walter Landsberg, 18 of 41 graduating seniors are first generation; 10 of the 41 are from Lowell; four Lowell students were accepted to top tier colleges; and two Lowell students were accepted to Ivy League schools with full tuition paid for four years. Quite impressive.

It's easy to see why there are 45,000 students on public charter-school waiting lists across the state.

The Patrick administration won our praise in 2010 when it lifted restrictions on charter-school expansion, but political pressure kept the reforms to a minimum. It is apparent now that limiting expansion to the lowest-performing school districts was a compromise for the moment, not a vision for the future. Patrick needs to reassert his commitment to charter schools and expand the options for our neediest children.

There should be an unfettered public-school system where the best charter-school proposals gain certification, without being phased in over time (seven years!).

Commissioner Chester says he thinks it's time to speed up the process. We think it's time to kill the cap.


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