Charters Can Earn Community Support as They Grow
An article in Time profiles Yinghua Academy, a Mandarin-immersion charter school in Minnesota. (And, yes, although equally innovative schools are cropping up in various sectors of the education market, this school really is a charter; someone in the Yinghua Academy office confirmed its status over the phone.)
Yinghua Academy started out with only 30 percent of students who were not Asian. That’s risen to 50 percent, and the entire student body has tripled. The school has attracted new students as more people see how successful the immersion program is.
If Yinghua Academy had been proposed in Oregon, it might have been turned down because it lacked broad support in the community. Districts could have argued that Mandarin language was a narrow subject that few people who are not Asian would want to learn. After all, when Yinghua Academy opened, it was a small school that served mostly Asian students.
States with restrictive policies toward charter schools can learn from Yinghua Academy’s example. When a proposed charter school is going through the application process, you don’t know for sure whether it will be a good school or a bad one. A charter’s full worth can’t be judged after just a few weeks or months, either. Only when parents have had time to evaluate the school can you see whether it meets a demand in the education market.
Of course, charter proposals that are incompetent or frivolous should be turned down from the start. But proposals whose drawbacks are that they’re specialized or ambitious should get a chance to prove themselves. Schools that satisfy parents can draw wider support after a few years.