Monday, August 01, 2005

Charter Schools: A Paradigm Shift In California?

There's a new public charter high school opening soon in California that may recast how public charter schools are founded in the state: (emphasis added)

A new tech-heavy charter school founded by Qualcomm executive Gary Jacobs and backed by the Gates Foundation opens next month in Redwood City with the goal of training students to compete in the global workforce.

The school has placed newspaper advertisements to enroll up to 40 more students this year. About 60 percent of students who have graduated High Tech High schools so far are the first in their families to go to college, said Linda Stevenin, High Tech High's regional director of communications and outreach.

High Tech High schools teach beyond the three R's of reading, writing and 'rithmetic. By requiring internships, teaching vocational skills with academic subjects and assigning projects like business plans and presentations, the schools follow the philosophy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has donated millions of dollars to the schools. The foundation has its own version of the three R's: rigor, relevance and relationships.

But the new school for roughly 200 high school students is just a start. The San Diego-based non-profit group behind High Tech High Bayshore [Ed's note: see school's website here] is petitioning the state for clearance to be the first charter school group to spread its concept across California with no need for local approval.

"There is just a huge demand for skilled employees,'' said Joe Feldman, executive director of the new High Tech High Bayshore, opening this August on a state-of-the-art campus in Redwood City. "There's a lot of pressure on industries and businesses because of that, especially here."

High Tech High Learning -- the umbrella group for the new school -- already boasts six schools in Southern California and plans to blanket the state with two new schools a year, including five or six in the Bay Area. And that has some critics nervous about local districts losing control of public schools and corporations using the school system to train obedient worker bees any way they see fit.

A section of a charter school law passed in 2002 allows charter schools with high test scores to make the case that they should be allowed to use their model across the state. California Department of Education board members will consider High Tech High's proposal in September.

If they approve it, other major charter groups in California are likely to follow with applications of their own and charter schools could spread more freely throughout the state. Charter school advocates say this could pave the way for an educational system that is based on choice and improves through competition.

The outcome may also influence whether other major charter groups in the state -- including Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools and KIPP -- follow High Tech's example.

Be sure to read the whole San Jose Mercury-News article.

Even though I'm as nervous as the next teacher when it comes to change, I'm well aware of the fact that many districts (such as the mid-sized elementary district where I teach) are controlled by superintendents and/or boards that are dead-set against any type of charter school being opened within their district.

This opposition to charter schools has more to do with the loss of control by the traditional EduCracy and less to do with educational effectiveness. Those who are opposed to charters will always couch their opposition it in language that is designed to make it appear that the superintendent/board is only concerned about the welfare of staff and or children.

Change for its own sake is rarely good. Most experienced classroom teachers, who have seen various educational fads come and go can vouch for that. But being opposed to change simply out of fear or a need to protect EduCratic turf is counterproductive to the schools' greater mission of providing each child with the opportunity to obtain the highest quality education.

I hope that High Tech High Bayshore scores a lot of academic touchdowns.
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