Charter Schools: A Rising Tide Lifts All Students

This article on The Learning Community in Central Falls shows one of the collateral advantages of charter schools: not only do they offer a better educational environment for the individual students enrolled in them, but they also improve education for all public school students. Here’s how: Three years ago, new Superintendent Frances Gallo wondered how The Learning Community had achieved higher test scores all the while maintaining the same demographics as other schools in the district. She then realized that the school could become a model for those other schools:

In August 2008, Gallo created a pilot program in which instructional coaches from The Learning Community began working closely with teachers at two of the city’s elementary schools, Captain Harold Hunt and Feinstein. … A year later, 86 percent of the kindergarten students at Captain Hunt Elementary School were reading at or above the national benchmark. Each classroom at Hunt made improvements ranging from 20 to 60 percentage points. … This fall, Gallo expanded the program, called the Growing Readers Initiative, to 1,200 students in kindergarten through second grade at all four elementary schools.

A similar debate exists over whether schools should have Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. Don’t those advanced courses privilege the few at the expense of the many, critics argue? Those in the know, however, will respond that teachers who are certified as instructors in the AP and IB programs bring that advanced training to bear in their regular education classrooms as well, thereby benefitting all students. This seems to be a basic tenet of conservatism: making everyone equal actually hurts everyone, not just those who were at the top. In economics, this principle is expressed in the phrase a rising tide lifts all boats. So also in education, raising the standards seems to lift all students, not just the smartest ones.

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