Charter School of Wilmington 10th graders upheld its reputation
as arguably the academically best public high school in the
state in the reading, mathematics and writing tests, year-old
Edison Charter and Marion T Academy ranked at the bottom among
the state's 80 elementary and 52 intermediate schools and the
slightly older East Side Charter performed only slightly better.
What does that tell you?
"Charter schools are not a panacea,"
said Nikki Castle, president of Edison Charter's independent
board of directors. "A lot of people thought if their children
came in here all their problems were going to be gone. They've
found out that we're not a magic bullet."
"That doesn't mean that we haven't
made a difference. We're offering a quality education where
quality education hasn't been available," she added.
Principal Charles Hughes said that
the state test results are not in any sense a disappointment nor
a negation of what has been accomplished during the first year.
we're not satisfied. We want to do better and we will do better.
But it's going to take time." he said. "For our kids -- and for
their parents too -- it has been a major cultural change. We
will see over time where they will go."
Charter schools came about, Castle
explained, largely because of dissatisfaction in the local
business community over the results of a public education as
reflected in young employees they hired. "That's what they told
us in a survey in 1992. If the same survey were taken today, I
don't think you would see a lot of improvement. They're still
not satisfied," Castle said.
A charter school is a public school
governed to a large extent in the manner of a private school. It
is financed indirectly by taxes in that both the state and
conventional school districts provide 'tuition' equivalent to
the average cost of educating the student in a conventional
Its autonomy allows the school to
adjust quickly to actual circumstances. "Last year, we started
out as theory and assumptions. Now we can identify what is
working and what is not working and make changes," she said.
in a completely refurbished George Gray school building in
northeast Wilmington, Edison Charter, an affiliate of Edison
Schools Corp., a national for-profit company, officially
enrolled 834 youngsters in kindergarten through seventh grade
last year. By June, that number had fallen to 765 but, with the
addition of an eighth grade in the coming academic year, it is
looking for about 915.
About two-thirds of last year's
enrollment came from city neighborhoods. The others came from
throughout New Castle County with several commuting from the
Newark and Bear areas.
Except for those with siblings
already enrolled, who receive a priority under the state's
public school choice law, acceptance for the coming year will be
on a first-come basis.
said that one measure of the school's acceptance in its first
year is the fact that more than 85% of the faculty will be
returning in September. "That's well below the turnover rate in
urban schools nationally," he said. Unlike their colleagues in
the conventional districts from which most of them came, Edison
teachers are not represented by a union.
Hughes said he is professionally
satisfied by his experience during the past year. He formerly
worked in the Christina district.
Castle said a further measure of
satisfaction is the fact that the Edison building itself has
been totally spared any graffiti or vandalism.
While some officials in the
conventional public school districts from which the students
came considered the returning students as an indication
that the charter movement isn't all it was cracked up to be,
Hughes said the exodus was to be expected. There were almost as
many reasons for withdrawing as there were youngsters
withdrawing. "Discipline, the longer school day, the longer
school year, uniforms, the higher expectations we had for them
-- that all figured in," he said.
Discipline, he acknowledged, has
been a problem. "We have a number of kids who have not embraced
our core values yet," he said. Suspensions -- both in and out of
school -- were rather numerous, but "we haven't expelled anybody
yet," he said.
In large measure, the reason there
have been no expulsions is that charter schools do not have
access to existing alternative-school placement, but each is
legally considered its own school district and students expelled
from one district cannot be placed in conventional classes in
another district. Anyone expelled from charter school,
therefore, is literally out on the street regardless of age.
Hughes said an effort will be made to have the General Assembly
Hughes agreed with the state
Department of Education that school-by-school comparisons to
test scores are not a valid measure of the schools' performance.
What counts for more, he said, is measuring improvement both
individually and as a group.
It should not be surprising, he
explained, to find that only 35% of Edison third graders met or
exceeded state reading standards. Using a standardized test last
November, the school found 43% came up to that level. Results of
an end-of-year test are not yet available.
"Those who came here in the first
place were those who were having problems where they were. If
you were in a school you like and were doing well, why would you
want to transfer?" he said. Moreover, Edison's student
population has the state's largest concentration of students
identified as being in lower socio-economic straits with some
90% eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
"We take our kids as we find them.
Our goal is to bring them to a higher level. That's not going to
work for every one," he said. "The important thing is that we
offer an option. There are a lot of options in education. They
have not generally been available to people who are poor or in
the innercity. Our kids have the same rights in education that
other kids do. Now they, too, have an option."