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SEATTLE -- The University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) today announced a $190,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the development of high quality charter schools in Washington state. The new project will be a partnership between the CRPE, which is part of the University’s Evans School of Public Affairs and the Charter Schools Development Center in California.
“When well designed and held to high standards of management and accountability, charter schools are an important part of a community’s efforts to provide educational options to parents and students,” said Robin Lake, associate director of the CRPE. “This new center will help communities and educators in Washington create outstanding high schools by discovering what makes charter schools successful and sharing their knowledge and expertise.”
The Washington State Charter Schools Development Center will provide technical assistance and expertise for the initial start-up and ongoing operation of charter schools in Washington. It will conduct workshops, share best practices, and provide direct assistance to new charter schools. The center will also help school districts learn how to identify quality charter school proposals and oversee them effectively.
Charter schools are the subject of Referendum 55, a measure that will appear on the November Washington statewide ballot asking voters to approve a law signed by the Governor authorizing a limited number of public charter schools.
Experience in other states and districts has demonstrated that well designed and well run charter schools can play a critical role in reaching the nearly 30 percent of students -- including about half of African-American and Hispanic students -- who fail to graduate high school.
According to the Urban Institute, in Washington State, only 66 percent of high school students graduate, with only 53 percent of African Americans and 48 percent of Latinos graduating. A 2003 study by the Manhattan Institute suggests that the country’s college preparedness rates are also alarmingly low in Washington State, with only 20 percent of African Americans and 13 percent of Latinos prepared for the rigors of higher education.
Often much smaller than most traditional public schools, charter schools have the inherent flexibility to provide the personalization, rigorous coursework, and relevant curriculum students need to achieve. Nearly 2,700 charter schools are currently operating in 40 states and the District of Columbia, serving more than 700,000 students nationwide. Many charter schools have reported improved test scores, along with higher graduation rates and better college preparedness while serving a greater percentage of minority (51 percent versus 38 percent) and low-income students (54 percent versus 46 percent) than are traditional public schools.
Two recent Progressive Policy Institute studies on charter schools in New York City and Indianapolis found that high quality charter schools in both cities are showing positive results. In New York City, charters are infusing an “entrepreneurial energy” that is bringing a unique combination of flexibility and accountability into the city’s school system. Indianapolis has only had charter schools for two years, but they are already showing good student achievement, parental satisfaction and community involvement.
“High-quality charter schools are an important public school option as communities seek to help all students graduate ready for college, work, and citizenship,” said Tom Vander Ark, executive director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s education programs. “But, like any other school, it’s important for charter schools to be well designed, well run, and accountable for improving the education of the students. This grant will help provide the support school operators need to succeed in that effort.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is working with communities in almost every region of the country to significantly increase the number of students—particularly low-income, African-American, and Hispanic students—who graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship. Since 1999, the foundation has invested $745 million to support the creation of 1,600 high-quality schools in 41 states.