Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama: Lift Charter School Caps

Some encouraging news today (along with a strange but welcome stock market rally) - Pres. Obama, in a speech to the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, called on states to lift their caps on charter schools. About half of the states currently limit the number of charter schools that can be started. Since many of these schools -- which receive public money, but operate separately from usual school district control -- have proven to be quite good, there are currently more than 300,000 students on charter school waiting lists. It's absolutely ridiculous not to let these students have more options. You can read more about the proposal, and the rest of Obama's speech, here.

He also repeated calls for a merit pay system for teachers. The details are somewhat fuzzy, and no doubt will be vigorously opposed by the teachers unions that have been among Obama's top supporters. But the idea is roughly that most people are fine with paying teachers more as long as you can get rid of the bad ones, and teachers who show concrete results -- in the form of higher student achievement -- are rewarded appropriately. This is how professionals should be paid and treated. In accounting, for instance, partners in firms can do quite well, but if your clients are continually doing badly on audits, you'd be out the door.

It's not clear yet what any of this would mean for gifted students. Obviously, gifted kids, like all kids, benefit from having better teachers. In theory, charter schools could be great for gifted kids, because some charters could focus on, say, advanced course work. This is what the Charter School of Wilmington was founded to do. On the other hand, many states have rules that charter schools can't pick their students, which makes selecting for giftedness difficult (the Charter School of Wilmington got away with this for years by saying that high test scores indicated an interest in the school's philosophy, and they were allowed to choose students who met that description. This approach has come under quite a bit of fire lately). But in general, charters allow educational experimentation, and flexibility is good for gifted kids. I'd love to hear from parents whose children are enrolled in charter schools about your experiences.


Kevin said...

One of the top charter schools (Pacific Collegiate in Santa Cruz) does pretty well for gifted students while having a lottery entry system. They just have tough classes (requiring multiple AP classes for example), so only those students interested in advanced academic work (whether "gifted" or just hard working) apply.

Kevin said...

Following up on my previous comment:
PCS has a waiting list to get in. There is about 20% probability of getting in at 7th grade, then it drops off considerably for 8th, 9th, and 10th grades (there were 83 applicants for 0 slots in 8th grade, though the top 1 or 2 on the waiting list will probably get in due to people having to leave). It picks up again in 11th and 12th grade (where there were more slots than applicants this year), since few students from other high schools are prepared for the number of AP classes that PCS expects students to take.

The Princess Mom said...

My kids were in a virtual charter school. It was great because, as a new school, they were very open to acceleration and independent study.

Our supervising teacher says her students are either gifted or struggling academically, there aren't any in the middle. I think that's a clear picture of where the public schools are doing well (academically average students) and where they fall down.

Red River said...

Meaningless. Let's look at here and now.

Its a shame the kids in DC will not be able to go to the schools of their choice anymore. If your IQ is 150, you are black, you go to Sidwell, then you are SOL.

Becky said...

I live in Calgary, AB Canada. My son is in Westmount Charter School, which is a fantastic gifted charter school here. He loves it there, and we feel so fortunate that charter schools are so widely supported here. In his previous school, he was continually getting in trouble, and struggled to feel that he had any friends. He dreaded going to school each day. At Westmount, he is excited to go each day. What a blessing to be working with teachers who are familiar with the ins and outs of what can be very complicated little gifted learners.