Philadelphia district keeping charter schools from flexing their muscle

Posted: October 03, 2010

Naomi Johnson Booker

is president of Philadelphia Charters for Excellence

Davis Guggenheim, director of An Inconvenient Truth, showed how the simple act of changing a light bulb could change the world. Now, he asks in his film Waiting for "Superman," which opened Friday, why can't we change public education?

We can. We are.

Philadelphia charter schools are succeeding where traditional schools fail. More than 70 percent of the city's charters met the state's Adequate Yearly Progress standard, but that is not the only measure to which we hold ourselves accountable. Nearly 100 percent of Philadelphia charter students go to school every day, excited to learn, excited about the possibilities their futures hold. In most of our high schools, 95 percent or more are graduating and going on to college.

Parents and students know charters are succeeding: A report this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts noted that 62 percent of Philadelphia parents wanted choice in their child's education. Nearly 30,000 city students are on waiting lists for charter schools - more than are enrolled in Pittsburgh's entire school district.

Why are so many children in Philadelphia lingering on waiting lists? Because the Philadelphia School District is arbitrarily capping charter enrollment - against state law and potentially to the detriment of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top grant funding. Here are some of the problems:

Hundreds of students at the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School have been denied funding by the school district - forcing a hearing before the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

No applications for new charters have been released in three years, in violation of the state's charter law, which requires that they be released at least every two years.

Charter schools requested close to 10,000 additional seats from the School Reform Commission in 2010. Fewer than 1,000 were granted.

How do charters succeed where others fail? It's not about money. Charters receive 80 cents on the dollar compared with traditional public schools, and in many cases have longer school years, longer school days, and free tutoring, often on weekends and in the summer. The whole-school effort to ensure that every child succeeds does not exist in a traditional public school.

It is the essence of equality that all children are able to learn and to achieve. Let's give them that chance, and their parents choice. Let's not accept failure for Philadelphia's children. Don't leave them Waiting for "Superman."

E-mail Naomi Johnson Booker at nbooker@