Charter schools continue to dominate mid-valley headlines, what with last week’s public hearing before the Albany School Board over a proposed new charter school and, over in Benton County, the welcome news that the Kings Valley Charter School and the Philomath School District had settled their legal wrangling.
In an editorial last week, we pondered the inevitable tensions between charter schools and their sponsoring districts — tensions that reached an unusual peak in the Kings Valley-Philomath flap but cooled, as we had hoped, once the two sides sat down to talk.
But there’s one point that we didn’t get to in last week’s editorial, and it’s worth making: If one of the ideas behind these charter schools is to use them as laboratories for educational innovation, one sure way to snuff out that innovation is to insist that a charter school looks just like any other public school.
In that light, it was odd to read about some of the questions that Albany School Board members were firing at the organizers of the proposed Albany Community Charter School.
How would you handle gym space? What about your kitchen facilities? Your science labs? Do you have enough money set aside for computer labs and equipment? How will you deal with unexpected bumps in costs?
Now, granted, the sponsoring school district — and, by extension, its trustees — certainly needs to be sure that it maintains a proper measure of oversight over a charter school. (In fact, this was one of the core issues in the Philomath-Kings Valley dispute.)
However, the unspoken subtext — intentional or not — of many of these questions at last week’s public hearing was this: “How are you going to provide the same services that we do? You have to be different, but you should look just like we do.”
Charter schools need the freedom to be different. If a school district keeps a charter school on too tight of a leash, it runs the risk of choking out any possibility of innovation. And that flies in the face of Oregon’s grand experiment with charter schools. (mm)