To the editors:
After reading the guest opinion by Helen Gym, “Underfunding is only part of the District’s fiscal story” (Summer 2008), I feel that a distinction has to be clearly made: there are significant differences between charter schools and schools run by the District’s education management organizations (EMOs). Putting both into the same category when calling out the District on its spotty multiple-provider model is unfair.
Many charter schools that are part of the SRC’s reform movement are clearly doing better than some traditional public schools. My children’s 2007-08 National Charter School of the Year, MaST Charter, has made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in each year of its current charter.
As independent public schools, charters can manage their own instructional programs and faculty, and many have put into place innovative curriculum. EMO schools, on the other hand, have “thin management contracts” that allow the company only to pick its principal, with the rest of EMO staff still District employees. The EMOs, unlike charters, are put in the weaker, less autonomous position of having the responsibility but not the authority.
In making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), EMO schools finish third, traditional public schools finish second, and charters do the best. Charter schools should then not be guilty by association or categorized with EMOs.
Keep in mind that when traditional public schools fail, they stay open. Fear of closure keeps charter administrators, principals, and teachers on their game. For 32,000 Philadelphia students, including families like mine that are in both the charter school and traditional public school sectors, the option of school choice inclusive of charters has been a more effective educational model.
Karen D. Lash
The writer is a founding member of Parents Unified for Charter Schools.