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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: charter schools

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May 20, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Can’t we all get along? Writer calls for truce in education wars

Sam Chaltain

Sam Chaltain

First he was a private school teacher in New York City. Then, briefly, a public school teacher. After that, Sam Chaltain spent years studying schools across the country trying to determine what qualities were common to the very best.

In Washington, D.C., his current hometown, Chaltain got an unusual opportunity to examine two vastly different models up close. For nine months, he observed a new charter program struggling to get off the ground, and contrasted this with the daily ebb-and-flow of life at a 90-year-old neighborhood school. The result is “Our School: Searching for Community in the Era of Choice.”

Chaltain, 43, insists that he never intended to compare and contrast the schools in order to anoint one better than the other. Rather, he strives to present on-the-ground realities in each, with a mind toward suggesting a path forward. As Washington state prepares to open its own charter programs next year, his experience may have particular resonance for public school parents faced, for the first time, with a choice.

What follows is a condensed version of a conversation between Chaltain and The Seattle Times. He will be discussing his book at Powell’s in Portland on Wednesday.

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December 19, 2013 at 5:00 AM

Confused about the charter school ruling? A little history helps

Washington state constitution (Seattle Times archives)

Washington state constitution (Seattle Times archives)

Last week’s ruling on the constitutionality of Washington’s charter school law left many people confused, especially with both sides declaring victory. The questions are unlikely to be settled until the state Supreme Court weighs in.

In the meantime, here’s a little history to help us non-lawyers understand some of the issues better:

1. Even though King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel ruled that charter schools can’t be considered “common schools,” that doesn’t mean they can’t be public schools. The term “common schools” is largely synonymous with public schools, but not completely.

Article IX in the state Constitution lays out several kinds of public schools — common schools, but also technical schools and “normal” schools, the precursors to teachers colleges.  All those schools are supposed to be part of the state’s public school system.

The hitch: Only common schools are supposed to be funded from the “common school fund” and the “state tax for common schools.”

Interesting fact: Initially, not even high schools were considered common schools, although that’s since changed. And the state, in defending the charter-school law, pointed to that fact in arguing that the Legislature has changed and can change the definition of common schools.

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