Of choices, truants, and taxi medallions

Six days after the election, and by a miniscule margin, Washington State became the forty-second state to allow charter schools. Charter advocates and operators will have plenty of work ahead if they want to convince such a polarized electorate (which rejected charters thrice before) that the forty schools they’re now permitted to open will add quality and innovation to the state’s public school landscape. The battle is won, but the war will continue.

Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) has released the preliminary findings of their study on the impact of the GreatSchools program in D.C. and Milwaukee—and the news is good! The GreatSchools program runs an online search engine to help parents discover their children’s schooling options. The programs in the two cities studied went further, providing in-person parent training to supplement the materials. CEPA found that these programs successfully influenced parents to select higher-performing schools. Disseminating information, the goal of so many groups (ourselves included), is not always enough; groups that actively try to educate parents about their options should be lauded and replicated.

Mayor Bloomberg’s fiscal plan for 2013, which proposes to shrink Gotham’s budget by $1.6 billion, caused an uproar earlier this week. It all began when a court stopped the city from selling additional taxi medallions as a revenue raiser, leaving a $635 million deficit. To plug the hole, Hizzoner’s budget would apparently raise the price of school lunches while cutting funds for libraries. If one takes the proposal at face value, dismay is the correct reaction: Are we putting the interests of taxi drivers ahead of children now, too? But if it is a political ploy, the situation is equally ludicrous; holding parents and children hostage is wildly inappropriate.

D.C. and Chicago made headlines this week with their astonishingly high levels of truancy. The Washington Post reports that one in six of the District’s high school freshmen missed at least two weeks of class this year; in Chicago, one in eight students in public elementary schools missed four weeks of class or more in 2010-11. June Kronholz provides an excellent commentary on this problem in Education Next, noting (for example) promising attendance-incentive programs from the KIPP charter schools. Meanwhile, what ever happened to truancy officers?

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