BY DAVID BLEY
This post originally ran on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog
It is a concept we instill in our children as early as possible, from sharing toys with siblings to being a team player at school. It is what makes good sports teams great. And what helps communities overcome tragedies.
We know that, when it comes to education, our state cannot help more students succeed if we don’t collaborate and share ideas. Teachers. Principals. Parents. Students. Communities. Funders. We are all in this together.
Washington is in the fortunate position to learn from the most successful charter schools in other states that have made a real difference in students’ lives.
Our goal is to bring this collaborative spirit to emerging efforts around charter schools in Washington state. Last November, voters approved the creation of up to 40 public charter schools over the next five years, making Washington the 42nd state to offer charters as another public school option for students. These public charter schools will be open to all students and won’t charge tuition. Teachers and principals will have greater flexibility to adapt to student learning needs more effectively, using a variety of tools and approaches. Parents will have new choices to assure their children graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.
What does this new law mean for our state? For one, we are not starting from scratch. Washington is in the fortunate position to learn from the most successful charter schools in other states that have made a real difference in students’ lives. It means we can start with an unrelenting focus on quality, accountability, and a fearless willingness to close those schools that don’t work. We also know that new public charter schools have the greatest impact when they work hand-in-hand with the school districts in which they are located—so that ultimately all of public education is stronger.
One important part of that is the launch of the Washington State Charter Schools Association, which the foundation supported through a planning grant. The association will focus on three key areas: sharing accurate information about charter schools to parents and community members, helping charters develop leaders, and advising charter school operators on the technical aspects of Washington’s rules and laws.
We know charter schools are just one piece of the puzzle of student success.
We are particularly excited about the opportunity to learn from other schools that have been successful in supporting children historically been left behind. Students who have not been able to access to high-performing public schools—including low-income students and students of color—will have new options to explore. Charter schools are public schools and can provide choices for parents to find the best school that fits their students’ needs.
We know charter schools are just one piece of the puzzle of student success. Our local education investments also support high-quality early learning programs, better feedback and professional support for teachers and principals, more meaningful learning assessments for students, community-driven and comprehensive efforts like the Road Map Project, and other strategies that increase personalized learning opportunities for all students and improve academic outcomes.
For the Gates Foundation, we also can learn from our grants and partnerships in other states and school districts. We have a long history of supporting the growth and replication of high-performing charter schools across the nation, and also encouraging their collaboration with district schools.
This work must reflect our sense of shared responsibility and mutual accountability to the one thing that matters most: our children and the educational pathway they must successfully travel.
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