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Charter schools are a good thing for students

When U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited with teachers last week at H.B. Lee Middle School (part of the Reynolds School District) he got an earful about No Child Left Behind. We aren't interested in launching into another rant about that.

But Duncan also heard opposition about charter schools. And we can't resist the opportunity to come to the defense of these programs, which do provide much-needed options for families.

When we look around East County, we see many neighborhood schools, all of which are staffed by highly trained and competent teachers. And we have no doubt that children are learning and prospering in those environments.

But to suggest that all students excel in those schools would fail to recognize that some students do better in alternative atmospheres.

School districts everywhere have recognized for years that alternative schools work for students who don't function well within the traditional classroom. In recent years, charter schools have added a twist to that theme by giving parents the opportunity to choose a school that meets the specific needs of their children through specialized curriculums.

Locally, we have the Center for Advanced Learning (which promotes high student achievement), the Arthur Academy (which aims to accelerate achievement and academic competence), the Corbett Charter School and the nearby Oregon Trail Primary Academy.

In each case, these schools provide an alternative public education, but without the higher cost typically associated with a private school. In that regard, these schools provide a high-quality education to all students regardless of race, religion or ability to pay.

In that same vein, because charter schools push the envelope of achievement, their existence can lead higher achievement in mainstream schools as parents demand systemwide reforms.

There is a point, however, where the number of charter schools reaches the point of diminishing returns. That's when too many dollars are siphoned from traditional schools, which then struggle to maintain a high standard of instruction. When that happens, then charter schools will have gone too far.

In the meantime, school districts should continue to look at charter schools as a wise tool for connecting with students, leading to graduates who are better prepared for college and the work force, and who are ready to improve their communities.