Published Online: January 29, 1997


Letters to the Editor

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'Islands of Excellence In a Sea of Mediocrity'

To the Editor:

The National Education Association's president, Bob Chase, just doesn't get it ("Which Charters Are Smarter?,"Commentary, Dec. 4, 1996). His view of charter schools is badly distorted by the all-too-familiar "them and us" perspective that pervades his union's philosophy. "One camp seeks to reform and revitalize public schools, while the other seeks to dismantle them through tuition vouchers and privatization." Both of these camps may exist in Washington, where "either/or" is a constant, but for the parents and teachers who create and operate charter schools in communities across America the agenda is quite different and far less contentious. The goal is simply to provide a high-quality education for their children, which the evidence, provided by their children's experience in their local schools, has convinced them is not available in those settings.

What is it these parents want? Survey after survey has made it abundantly clear. Parents want: (1) academic learning to take precedence over the numerous social activities schools have all too willingly given priority; (2) unrelenting attention to student achievement in reading, writing, and computation; (3) orderly, safe, and disciplined schools with well-managed classrooms; (4) involvement in the decisions that affect their children's values and futures; (5) civil and effective relationships with the people who have an impact on their child's education. These are not unreasonable expectations and should not be any more difficult to implement than "cooperative learning," "whole language," "authentic assessment," "outcomes-based education," or any of the other esoteric "reforms" that trivialize the public school environment.

Charter school parents see charter schools as islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. Charter school parents see charter schools as an opportunity to rescue their children, who are squeezed between the Scylla of bureaucratic administrative indifference and the Charybdis of self-serving union contracts. Charter school parents have little interest in seeing their children used as subjects in "laboratories of innovation and change," nor as pawns in the political manipulations of right or left "hostile camps."

Mr. Chase's list of abuses by charter schools could easily be trumped by a longer list of horror stories that are the day-to-day experience of parents and students in public schools. The lists Mr. Chase ought to be concerned with are the long waiting lists of parents hoping to enroll their children in charter schools. They could care less about certified teachers--they want qualified teachers. They are tired of accountability committees--they want personal accountability. They are more than familiar with the "educational establishment" and fully knowledgeable about who it is that has an interest in damaging and discrediting the charter school movement.

Which charters are smarter? The charter schools that take the position "a curse on both your camps" and are truly democratically governed, open to all serious students, and fully accountable to the parents whose children attend them.

Henry F. Cotton
Director, Cherry Creek Academy
Charter School 20
Englewood, Colo.

Did Manno Miss Election? Dole Lost, Clinton Won

To the Editor:

Bruno V. Manno seems not to have noticed what happened on Nov. 5, 1996 ("Electioneering on Education,"Commentary, Jan. 15, 1997). Bob Dole, who loudly advocated vouchers for private schools, lost. Bill Clinton, who didn't support vouchers, won.

Mr. Dole evidently thought that favoring vouchers (and opposing reproductive choice) would win over Catholic votes. Catholics voted 53 percent to 37 percent for Mr. Clinton over Mr. Dole.

Also on Nov. 5, Washington state voters defeated a voucher initiative (as well as a bizarre charter school plan) by 64.5 percent to 35.5 percent, quite close to the cumulative total vote against vouchers and other schemes for diverting public funds to nonpublic schools (66.9 percent to 33.1 percent) in 20 statewide referenda from coast to coast between 1966 and 1993.

The Washington state vote was also close to the 65 percent to 35 percent opposition to vouchers registered in the 1995 Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll.

Mr. Manno tries to make vouchers attractive, but he cannot hide the fact that vouchers would force all taxpayers to pay for private schools that are not controlled by public boards, that do not have to play by the same rules as public schools, and that commonly practice forms of indoctrination and discrimination not allowed in public schools. Vouchers would fragment our school population and society along religious, ethnic, social class, ideological, and other lines.

Rather than vouchers, what this country needs is a commitment to excellence in public education and to more adequate and equitable funding of public education.

Edd Doerr
Executive Director
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Md.

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