WASHINGTON, February 26 — Signaling the important role of innovation in driving education reform, the House Education and Labor Committee chose charter schools as the focus of its first hearing to inform its rewrite of the eight-year-old No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.h/t JH
"If our goal is to build world-class schools," Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said, "we absolutely need to look at high-performing charter schools for research and development and replicate what they are getting right."
Miller admitted that charter schools are not a "silver bullet," but those that are high performing can improve achievement levels of low-income and minority students by instilling competition into the traditional school system.
One in a "Handful" of Hearings
Committee spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz told Thompson Publishing that charter schooling is just one of many topics that will be discussed in a "handful of hearings" on reauthorizing NCLB, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
The charter school hearing focused on the All Students Achieving through Reform Act (H.R. 4330), a proposal to provide competitive grants to expand and replicate successful charter schools. (Currently, about 1.5 children are enrolled at almost 5,000 public charter schools.) The bill would give priority to students from families with low incomes or those from schools with low graduation rates or in need of improvement.
Charter school proponent Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said the bill was a "promising idea" to expand these types of schools. The federal government, he said, could encourage the growth of charter schools by eliminating state-imposed charter school enrollment and growth caps and allowing new schools to be established under an existing charter.
Other hearing participants, however, weren't so keen to see the federal government expand charter schools or, at the very least, said stronger oversight is needed.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., pointed to a February 2010 study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA called Choice Without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards, which argues that "charter schools continue to stratify students by race, class, and possibly language, and are more racially isolated than traditional public schools."
Thomas Hehir, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said more needs to be done "on the authorizing level" to improve charter school access for students with special needs and be sure that these schools aren't cherry picking the best and the brightest students, leading to concentrations of the hardest-to-serve students in the traditional public system.
Choice Without Equity