A class act

If you were to look at charter schools in a biology lab, you’d see them growing quickly and multiplying in the petri dish that is California. There are now 170,000 young people in 471 charter schools in the state, and there could be 75 more charters in the next year. Many new strains of education have been spawned in the past 10 years.

The schools themselves are like labs, where researchers (actually teachers and administrators) are experimenting with the basic concepts of education. Unbridled by many bureaucratic regulations burdening the public-school system, charter schools can design innovative programs to fit students. There are certainly many ways to higher student achievement, and one size cannot fit all. That said, we must be cautious and careful with children’s lives, and, of course, some of these charter programs could be failed experiments.

But can we afford not to experiment? According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, California kids in the fourth grade came in at a disappointing 47th place in reading ability compared with students in other states. Apparently, one type of class does not fit all, and public education needs radical reform, so watch out for more charter growth.

Certainly, the most publicized charter in this area has been the conversion of Sacramento High School by St. Hope Corp. We initially covered it in depth more than a year ago with a cover story, and we return now to examine the next stage. (See “The re-education of Sacramento High.”)

It must have been a ton of work and worry getting a school of that size up and running, knowing that the critics were waiting to pounce upon any misstep. To create the school almost instantaneously, St. Hope’s administrators needed to be part educator and part entrepreneur. Read along as Chrisanne Beckner examines this experiment in education.