This from Ronnie Ellis in the Daily Independent:
Advocates and opponents of charter schools hurled statistics and quoted reports at a legislative education committee Monday, sometimes drawing opposite conclusions from the same reports and data.
But two witnesses made the most impression, one on either side of the debate.
Charter schools are publicly funded but freed from many of the regulations imposed on public schools. Supporters contend they produce better instruction often at lower costs while critics say the record is mixed and those which succeed often “cherry pick” the best students, turning away handicapped children and those from bad homes.
Tracy McDaniel implemented the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) at his Oklahoma City middle school located in a predominantly poor, African American community, a school that before KIPP had some of the lowest test scores in the state. The school’s test scores have steadily improved and now white and Hispanic enrollment has increased as students from other neighborhoods apply for admission.
His school is now a charter school, but the KIPP program – started by two former Texas teachers and supported financially by the founder of GAP Stores – isn’t restricted to charter schools. In fact, McDaniel’s school implemented KIPP before it became a charter school and later applied for a charter to avoid closing the school during budget cuts.
“If I had to go back to public schools,” McDaniel told Rep. Hubie Collins, D-Wittensville, “I’d run the school just like KIPP.”
That means much longer school days – McDaniel’s school operates from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is open some Saturdays. Parents sign contracts; two hours of homework are required each night, and teachers must provide students with home phone numbers and take night-time calls to help with homework.
Some of the lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on Education Monday were surprised to learn teachers in McDaniel’s school actually start off with higher salaries than their public school counterparts. McDaniel said the school receives per-pupil funding from the state the same as public schools but then conducts private fundraising to supplement those higher salaries.
But after the meeting, McDaniel said while he favors charter schools, it is the commitment, additional training he received from KIPP and the work with students and parents at his school that makes it successful. Charter schools are a means not an end for him...
Committee chairman Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, said the purpose of the meeting is to provide the education committee with as much information – “both the pros and the cons” – about charter schools as possible before the next session of the legislature.