Accommodating a Few Special Schools is Not the Same as Allowing Charter Schools
On Wednesday, Seattle Times education reporter Linda Shaw wrote an informative piece about the Technology Access Foundation Academy (TAF), a special school in Federal Way that produces good results in preparing minority students for careers in math, science and technology. The article suggests that special schools like TAF work like charter schools and therefore, the implication goes, there’s no need to pass Initiative 1240, the ballot measure to allow charter schools in Washington.
Charter school opponents often point to schools like TAF to argue that the public education in our state already allows innovative schools and thus we don’t need the 40 charter schools proposed by Initiative 1240.
The problem is TAF is not typical of the public school system. Far more common in our system of 2,345 schools are hide-bound teacher work rules, central control and a focus on stifling bureaucratic compliance.
TAF is a special case. The leader of TAF and a handful of other schools happen to command the political connections and private money needed to gain some autonomy from central control. TAF, Delta High (in Richland) and Aviation High (in Highline) are schools that would not exist without the backing of powerful private interests and their money. The limited freedom they enjoy is fragile and conditional, so local educators must be careful not step on any bureaucratic toes by challenging the central authority. All three schools depend upon the continuing support of District officials, support that could be withdrawn at any time.
Initiative 1240 is different. It would give community groups the ability to start their own charter school, without soliciting private-sector money. Students at charter schools would enjoy the security of knowing their schools couldn’t be closed at the central District’s whim. Local education leaders could design their own educational program, control their budget, and assemble a quality teaching team.
TAF is led by Trish Dziko, an outstanding individual who raises money, oversees the board and the operations of the school. Yet, despite the $500,000 a year the TAF Foundation provides, the Federal Way School District does not allow TAF to pick its school principal or hire teachers. Imagine what Trish could accomplish for students if she could make these decisions without interference from central district officials and powerful unions.
Linda Shaw’s article points out, to her credit, that if Washington had a charter school law, TAF would have become a charter school, because “charter status would give it even more freedom than it has.”
Yes, indeed. At least Initiative 1240 would give kids in failing schools that option.