Be honest. You didn't expect the teachers union to capitulate and just accept charter schools even when such schools were mandated by voters, did you? Of course not. The Washington Education Association notified members in a recent letter that it will mount a legal challenge to Initiative 1240, which passed in November and authorized eight charter schools per year over five years in Washington. Forty schools over five years is no sea change, but it's the slippery slope that worries the WEA.We don't blame the union. Blocking reform proposed by nonunion forces is basic to its mission. But here's the simple reality that makes union leaders squirm: If charter schools fail, they are closed. If charter schools succeed, the result is better education. How could an organization with "Education" as its middle name possibly oppose better schools?
The answer is simple, though unconfessed by union leaders: It's their way or the highway.
Not according to voters, 50.6 percent of whom statewide (52.3 percent in Clark County) passed Initiative 1240. It must annoy the WEA hierarchy that I-1240 — unlike many issues — drew steady support on both sides of the Cascades, passing in 11 western counties and seven on the east side.
However the legal fight goes, don't expect any breathtaking changes in our state. It took four ballot measures to get to this point. And a story this week at washingtonstatewire.com quotes charter school pioneer James Spady, who filed the first charter school initiative back in 1995: "(Initiative 1240) was seriously vetted for constitutional issues. There is case law which says that the Legislature has broad authority to implement a public school system. When the people pass a law by initiative, they are exercising their constitutional legislative power."
But the same website provides another opinion by state schools Superintendent Randy Dorn. The state constitution says the superintendent "shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools." As Dorn notes, I-1240 "builds a new public system outside of the public school system. It is housed in the governor's office. To me, that circumvents the constitution."
The courts will decide who's right. Meanwhile, a recent huffingtonpost.com story describes a 2012 report from Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes: "30 percent of New Jersey's charter schools had 'significantly more positive learning gains' in reading than comparable public schools, while 11 percent had 'significantly' lower gains in reading. … 40 percent of charter schools saw higher math gains, and 13 percent performed worse in math. On average, the state's charter school students saw an additional two months of learning per year in reading, and an additional three months in math, compared to their public school peers."
Where did this happen? "The real story here is how Newark's middle-school charters are lifting otherwise low-achievement youths," University of California, Berkeley professor Bruce Fuller said in the website story. To see such a change in our state would be great for Washington's children, although it might not be so great for the union. We'll side with the kids on this one.