Staying the course on charter schools: Listen to Riley's wisdom
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Dec 24, 2009 | 2154 views |  2 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It's not a fallacious concept to imagine Alabama as a national leader in public education. Don't be an unrelenting skeptic. Don't be a curmudgeon. With teamwork, leadership and pluck, it can happen.

Charter schools, if brought into Alabama's education mix, could be part of that resurgence.

But first, remember that public education in Alabama — a long-time black eye for the state's reputation — already has components considered among the best in the United States. Such proof can be a defeatist's worst enemy.

Earlier this year, The Economist magazine and several national news shows hailed ACCESS, the state's distance-learning program, as a benchmark for delivering cutting-edge academic coursework to all students, regardless of which school — large or small, urban or rural — they attend.

Additionally, the state's initiatives in reading and math and science continue to draw attention from other states who'd love to copy Alabama's success. It is no insignificant fact that politicians, administrators and teachers from neighboring states have visited Alabama to see the inner-workings of initiatives that long ago proved their worthiness.

See, Alabama public education can be a national leader. It's not impossible.

That's one of the main reasons why Gov. Bob Riley has become a de facto spokesperson for the charter-school cause in Alabama. Time and again during his tenure, Riley has fought for public education and urged all of us to think of the possibilities our schools hold, not of their failings of the past.

In that sense, Riley and the like-minded are correct to jump on the charter-school bandwagon. On Tuesday, Riley and his education policy advisor, Mark Dixon, spent nearly two hours explaining the possibilities of charter schools to skeptical members of the state Board of Education.

Their message was clear: Charter schools can work in Alabama. They may revitalize failing schools. They could reinvigorate and re-motivate certain students. And, in a practical sense, they can boost the state's chances of competing for as much as $200 million in federal money that's earmarked for states with innovative academic programs.

As already shown, public schools in Alabama can do innovation.

Last month, this editorial board urged charter-school critics — namely, the Paul Hubbert-led Alabama Education Association — to drop their across-the-board opposition to charter schools and listen to Riley's proposal.

The legitimate concerns among the AEA's charter-school worries deserve to be heard and dealt with. But a blanket refusal helps only the AEA and its members, not the state as a whole.

The fight between charter-school advocates, the governor's office and the AEA is likely to reach white-hot levels during the next legislative session. That's an unavoidable given.

The hope is that the charter-school option is given a fair chance. It has merit. It can be good for Alabama. It shouldn't be summarily dismissed because of the AEA's strong opposition.
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Staying the course on charter schools: Listen to Riley's wisdom by The Anniston Star Editorial Board

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