Improving Student Performance, Charter Schools

The Kansas City Star has a story highlighting Janet Waugh (State Board of Education incumbent) and her primary election challenger, Jesse Hall.

Waugh, the incumbent, sees steady progress in student achievement in the four counties she represents.

“For my district, education is the only escape for many children from a life of poverty or crime or, frankly, death at a young age,” she said. “I’m passionate about all children being educated.”

Waugh is right: education is very important. Children who don’t get a good education can end up in serious trouble. The costs can be high for the student and society as a whole.

Hall, however, is alarmed by the dropout rate in the district and across the state and wants schools to focus more on the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

“If we can lower the dropout rate, go back and teach the basics, then we’ll have a much-improved local economy,” he said.

It’s easy to find things to agree with here as well. Drop-outs are at a scandalous rate. Too many students don’t know the basic of reading and math (see the National Assessment for Education Progress).

So how do we get there?

Hall, we learn in the article, supports making it easier for charter schools to open up. Currently, charter applications must be approved not only by the state, but by the local district.

Under the current law, anyone who wants to start a charter school must ask “Dear local school board. We’d like to open up a school that will result in some of your students leaving your schools. Their money will leave with them. How about it?”

Not exactly a formula for promoting the use of charter schools.

Waugh, by contrast, opposes the move, saying that it’s a matter of “local control.”

But as the ongoing political and legal controversy over funding goes, the state has a significant role to play in education. So it’s not merely “local control.” More appropriately, policy makers should increase student and family control.

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