Senate Passes Landrieu Resolution Congratulating Public Charter Schools on Contributions to Education
Landrieu convenes panel to discuss "what works" in education.
The United States Senate this week passed a resolution by Senator Landrieu, S. Res 134, to congratulate students, parents, teachers and administrators at public charter schools across the United States for their ongoing contributions to education. The resolution supports the ideas and goals of the 10th annual National Charter Schools Week, which lasts from May 3 until May 9. It encourages programs, ceremonies and activities demonstrating support for public charter schools.
"I have been a longtime advocate of public charter schools, which help to better educate students and build stronger, more prosperous cities," Sen. Landrieu said. "I am a true believer that with public charter schools, we have a real chance to implement a new model of schooling that can break the chains of mediocrity and provide opportunities for children to excel."
Public charter schools have become one of the fastest-growing, innovative forces in education policy. Ten years ago there were 1,200 public charter schools operating. Today, there are about 4,500 public charter schools educating more than 1.4 million public school students.
In New Orleans, the devastating aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita became an opportunity to recreate a public school system. Before Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans school system had 128 public schools serving 65,000 students. The district was among the lowest performing in the nation. In 2005, the state Department of Education took over 107 "failing" New Orleans public schools that were performing below state averages. Post-Katrina and Rita, a smaller, more entrepreneurial system has evolved with 86 public schools, of which more than half are charter schools. The system now serves about 36,000 students, with more than half of New Orleans students enrolled in public charter schools, the highest proportion in the country. According to Education Week, "Louisiana has been widely praised for setting a high bar for new charters."
In March, Sen. Landrieu brought the new U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to New Orleans to tour area schools and discuss education reform proposals. They talked about how Louisiana is uniquely positioned to drive innovation in school reform nationwide.
Senate Charter School Caucus Convenes Panel to Discuss "What Works" in Education
As chair of the Senate Charter School Caucus, Sen. Landrieu convened a panel of education leaders this week to talk about how best to create an autonomous, accountable, public marketplace for educational choice and innovation for all students. Sen. Landrieu moderated the panel along with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., co-chair of the Senate Charter School Caucus. Participants included U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who most recently served as Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools.
Also present were Joel Klein, Chancellor of New York City Schools; Mayor Dan McKee, Cumberland, Rhode Island; Greg Richmond, President and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers; Nelson Smith, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; and James Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, who heads the Office of Innovation and Improvement.
The panelists expressed concern that public schools are falling short of providing the education that America's children need and deserve, in poor areas, urban areas, and even suburban areas. They emphasized the need for high-quality schools, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools. They also discussed the challenges associated with closing low-performing schools, and doing so in a way that has a minimal disruptive impact on students.
"What troubles me is that the debate over charter schools has not been focused on the issue that is should be focused on, which is the quality of the schools," said Joel Klein. "It has been focused on the politics. The real question is, are these schools doing right by their kids? If so, we will continue to support them. Whether public charter schools expand or not, our concern should be that they provide high-quality alternatives for children who, right now, are typically not getting the education they need.
"Folks, it's not about us. It's about kids, particularly high poverty kids, kids of color in America, who fundamentally have gotten the short end of the educational stick. This should be seen as a means to an end, not a 'we' 'they' discussion. I think this President has done a lot to refocus this debate. I do not care what the sign on the door of a school says, I want to know about the quality of teaching, the demands on children, the rigors of the academic experience. I have to believe that everyone wants that for their child."
The panelists agreed on the importance of strong public leadership on the issue of education reform.
"The charter school sector can grow and do well on its own, but it can grow much stronger and much faster when there is leadership from public officials that actually encourage that growth and take the steps to make the tough political calls that actually help grow these sectors," said Greg Richmond.
They also addressed the need for expanded federal funding for public charter schools. Currently, much of the funding for public charter schools comes from philanthropists, but private dollars will not be able to sustain the high-performing network of schools. Public leaders at the local, state and national level must make federal funding a priority.
"I think the political climate for federal funding has changed because of the election of President Obama," Sen. Landrieu said. "I think it has changed because of his unquestionable commitment to the issue of quality public education and breaking the chains of mediocrity that have held too many children back.
"I think his election and his visits to nontraditional public schools have sent an unmistakable message to the Hill. He has reinvigorated what was a waning, politically complicated issue." Another challenge hampering the expansion of public charter schools is a lack of dedicated facilities for these institutions. New York City will make room for public charter schools alongside traditional public schools that are underutilizing their space, or allow them to occupy the space of underperforming public schools that have been shut down. However, additional solutions must be devised.
"I think that we should call charter schools pro-teacher schools, because that's really what we're doing," said Sen. Lamar Alexander. "Charter schools give good teachers and school leaders the opportunity to do the things they are best at -- helping students learn -- and allow them to focus on improving student success. Today's panel helped demonstrate the effective ways charter schools are improving student success and changing the debate on how to improve public schools."