With the immense amount of tumult facing the American public education
system, it seems that public educators have found a beacon in a fairly new,
experimental program which could very well revive a system riddled with
systemic problems - the charter schools program.

Early returns on the program have been positive. The perceptions and
reactions have been so positive, in fact, that the successes of the program
merited a cover story in Oct. 31 edition of Time magazine.

The charter school program, active in only 11 states according to the
article, streamlines the bureaucracy characteristic of traditional public
schools. In effect, the program "unhandcuffs" public school administrators
from state interference on spending and authority.

With so many parents turning to private schools and homeschooling (the
article stated that now half a million students are homeschooled) the state
of public education was highly questionable. Something had to change. The
attention Chris Whittle's ambitious Edison project got three years ago was
a testament to the country's discontent with a failing education system.
Americans were awed by revelations of illiterate high school graduates and
junior high students who could not find the United States on an unmarked
map.

Charter schools are afforded a great deal of flexibility as opposed to
their traditional counterparts. According to theTime article,
principals and other administrators are given a free hand not only in
matters of money but also in curriculum choices. This may be the most
attractive aspect of the charter school system.

Of course, there must be some codified restrictions on what can and cannot
be taught in public schools and what must be taught in private schools, but
it can be argued that current regulation of public schools with regard to
curriculum choices is too restrictive, too stifling of creative thought.
Many students at charter schools are not only taught what? but also why?
They are given the opportunity to express themselves and interact with the
subject matter. Early results of the experiment seem to be successful
fiscally as well as educationally.

As the article reported, the new system has allowed Yvonne Chan, the new
principal of the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, to turn her school
around. Vaughn was reportedly an inner-city failure in Los Angeles - a
shining example of what is wrong with public education. California
strangles adminstrators with a 6,000-page education code book, according
toTime.

Chan, after being awarded charter status last fall, was able not only to
manage the money more efficiently but also human resources. Chan ran the
school into the black, with surplus of $1.2 million, which she reinvested
back into the school. She hired more teachers and made the parents of
students sign a three-page contract binding their support for the school,
requiring 30 hours of school-related service. Small parent-teacher
committees were also formed to help "run" the school.

The charter school program's flexibility may be the start of something
special in the fight to save our public schools, but it's probably too
early to declare the program as the nirvana of public education. Although,
despite the program's infancy, early critiques are positive - translating
into higher test scores and big savings.

Maybe the biggest gains are to be made in the facilitation of creative
thought. Nick Reisinger, a student of the Northlane Math and Science
Academy (Michigan), was quoted in the article, "I don't feel like ÔDuh,
what am I doing here? Ô"