Serve students' needs; Board should approve plan to lease buildings to two charter schools

ByEditorial

The Columbus Board of Education has the chance Tuesday to help itself and students by initiating a partnership with two of the most promising charter schools to come along.

By approving agreements to lease vacant school buildings to the nascent KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Academy and the Charles School, the board can provide more choices for students and gain a wealth of ideas and experience.

Shortsighted opposition to the leases by the Columbus Education Association and board members W. Carlton Weddington and W. Shawna Gibbs shouldn’t be allowed to derail this progressive move. These opponents persist in the notion that charter schools are to be obstructed by any means possible.

The school district has lost thousands of students to charter schools in recent years, but the exodus represents the desire of parents for better educational options, a desire that no longer can be ignored and that the district has failed to satisfy.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. Traditional public schools can work with charter schools, and charter-school operators can work with each other, to share resources and insights to improve the academic success of the poorest, hardest-to-serve students.

Columbus City Schools would benefit from its association with the KIPP school, because the district can include KIPP’s standardized-test scores with its own. Given the phenomenal results many KIPP schools have achieved across the country, that’s a good deal.

In addition, with the KIPP and Charles leases — and possibly two other proposed leases to social-service programs — the district can realize some revenue and free itself of about $60,000 per year per building in upkeep costs.

Opponents object that the KIPP school lease would be for the former Linden Park Elementary School. The Linden area already has lost the most students to charter schools, they say; why not pick on another neighborhood? But giving the Linden area easy access to a program with KIPP’s outstanding track record is hardly an imposition; it’s exactly what those neighborhoods deserve, since they clearly are not well-served by district schools. The teachers union’s contention, that KIPP is known for “sucking the brightest children from the surrounding local schools,” is false.

The high regard KIPP enjoys among school reformers comes from its success with the most-challenged students wherever it locates.

Moreover, students for the first Columbus KIPP school, which is a middle school set to open in the fall, are as likely to transfer from the less-successful charter schools in the Linden area as from the district’s schools.

The Charles School, affiliated with the highly regarded Graham School and offering students the chance to earn college credits from Ohio Dominican University, is in its first year and shows promise.

These schools could form the core of a new portfolio of options that Columbus schools could offer families. The district doesn’t have to run every school that serves Columbus students; to the contrary, diversity in ideas and approaches will improve the district and serve students.

The school board shouldn’t allow backward thinking to stand in the way of building that portfolio.

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