Author Archive | Fawn Spady

In wake of ballot initiative, momentum for charter schools in Washington state

School choice has encountered greater travails in few venues besides Washington State. Before they narrowly approved a new charter law this November, voters rejected charter initiatives in 1996 and 2000 and repealed a charter law enacted by the legislature in 2004. Washington State is in fact the only state where charter schools have ever faced voters directly. Now, opponents including the Washington State teachers union and the state superintendent of schools are threatening to sue to try to have the law held unconstitutional. 

washington charter resource centerBut you can’t keep a good idea down, as we saw last week at the Washington Charter School Resource Center conference. My husband Jim and I started the center in 2000. We hosted 160 interested people, 80 percent of them educators, at a forum on how to start a charter school successfully. Many hope to open a school next fall.

We are frustrated that the opposition remains so intense when the need for new approaches and frankly, for empowering parents with more educational options, is so obvious. Not even half of our fourth- and eighth-graders were proficient on national reading and math tests in 2011. Although we are fortunate in Washington State to have fewer low-income families than the national average, we rank only 37th in high school completion. Our graduation rate was 73.7 percent in 2011, and it was just 56.5 percent for Native Americans, 65.4 percent for African Americans and 64.5 percent for Hispanics. This is simply unacceptable.

Thankfully, we heard the imperative for change from those attending our forum. A principal told us he was tired of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. A parent said she just knows there is a better choice for her special needs children. A retired teacher said public charter schools give her the desire to return to public education. A former school board member declared charters a way to engage parents in schools.

Particularly encouraging for us is the wealth of expertise eager to assist us in moving forward. Continue Reading →

Hey, Mikey! They like it! (or, hope for Washington State)

Editor’s note: This entry comes from Fawn Spady, the chairwoman of the American Center for School Choice

This past week, I spoke to an “Introduction to Teaching” class at Green River Community College just south of Seattle.

I was asked to speak by a teacher who had been following the work my husband and I have done over the past 17 years to bring education choice to Washington State. She had already shown her students the movies “Waiting for Superman” and “The Lottery.” Interesting.

I thought it might be fun to take the pulse of these future teachers. Has anything changed here over the past four years that we have taken a hiatus from our education choice work? We have a liberal president in the White House who supports charter schools. Many high-tech leaders in Washington have dipped their toes in the water of education reform by lobbying the legislature for small reforms. Schools haven’t improved. The state budget is a deficit mess. Teachers union credibility has been damaged by strikes and their irrational unwillingness to consider merit pay.

Were future teachers going to be open to the possibility of education choice?

I began my presentation with a quote from one of their heroes, Steve Jobs:

I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher … several things would happen. Number one, schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting … I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is … the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise.

They were receptive. As in the old Life cereal ad, I thought to myself, “Hey, Mikey! They like it!”

I summarized our 14-year battle, gave out union dues statistics and showed them education choice Web sites from around the country. The online maps showed the spread of choice programs nationwide and provide a stark contrast to the absence of choice in Washington State.

I also showed them how their future union is willing to break campaign laws and use their money to keep them from having choices, merit pay and removing ineffective teachers.

In the end, they wanted to know what they could do. We talked about the importance of elections and picking candidates wisely based on information and not party. I told them not to let “the blob” lie to them or the public, and to help spread the truth about education choice among their friends and family. I told them that when they become teachers they need to hold their union accountable, even though it will be hard.

I feel hopeful. We will have to see how the 2012 election goes in Washington State.