Oregon: “Land of the Empire Builders” ? and Charter Deniers
A proposed charter school, Excelsior Prep, has been turned down by a school board in Oregon. Surprise, surprise:
“We were expecting this,” said Excelsior Prep Board member Tonjia Haskins after the meeting. “They have been opposed basically since the beginning.”
Getting charter applications denied by Oregon’s school boards is par for the course, but what’s outrageous in this case is that the reasons given are the charter’s impressive standards and goals. Here are the district advisory committee director’s comments:
“They thought they could go out and hire teachers for half of what public teachers are paid to deliver a more difficult curriculum than most public schools currently offer,” he said. “I don’t question their commitment at all, in fact, I applaud it, but they didn’t know how to get it done.”
So an intention to be more efficient and academically rigorous than traditional districts is reason enough to deny a charter! Charter proposals in Oregon don’t stand a chance — charters that want to do better than the districts aren’t allowed to go forward, while few students would ever enroll in a charter that made no improvements over the traditional public schools.
“Lack of community support” is another common criticism of Oregon’s charter hopefuls, and it was brought up in this case, too. Again, it’s a test that charters can’t pass. Most parents won’t sign on to a school that doesn’t yet exist, especially if the charter proposal constantly fluctuates in response to district demands. The problem is compounded because marketing has to be limited to word of mouth, for who would pour money into an advertising campaign for a proposed school that may never be approved?
We can’t foresee whether any charter will succeed, but we shouldn’t summarily write them off as failures and forbid them to open. If a charter doesn’t find enough community support or neglects to keep its promises, students will abandon it to return to the traditional public schools.
I’m anxious to see the result of Excelsior Prep’s appeal to the Department of Oregon. Knowing the state’s track record, I can’t be very optimistic.