Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Few Solutions In Book on Charters

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 26, 2008; 5:34 AM

Journalists, particularly me, tend to get excited about charter schools, the independently run public schools that have produced -- at least in some cases -- major improvements in achievement for children from low-income families. The charter educators I write about are often young, energetic, witty, noble and pretty much irresistible. But their charter schools, which use tax dollars with little oversight, are relatively new and untried. Like all experiments, they could easily fizzle.

That is the point of a short, readable and fact-filled new book, "Keeping the Promise? The Debate over Charter Schools," available for $16.95 at http://rethinkingschools.org. The seven chapters make the best case I have ever read for a skeptical attitude toward the nation's 4,000 charter schools. For reasons I will explain, it did not change my view of charters, but it should spark, as the subtitle says, a thought-provoking debate.

The book was published in collaboration with the Center for Community Change, a 40-year-old organization dedicated to building community groups that focus on poverty. It has been looking at inner-city schools for a long time. Much of the book reflects its view that political and business leaders have overlooked, or even exacerbated, terrible classroom conditions. One of the most suspicious things about charters to many of the book's authors is that they are often backed by wealthy corporate executives who, in their view, don't understand what it takes to help poor children.

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