Encouraging talk of school collaboration

Jan. 12, 2013 @ 10:42 AM

The conciliatory messages coming from Durham Public Schools these days about charter schools are welcome.

We fully appreciate the thorny challenge that charter schools present for traditional public schools. And we share many of the reservations, concerns and misgivings those in traditional public education have about charters.

Those misgivings can only be exacerbated by what promises to be even greater expansion of the less-regulated, more independent charters in this area. Durham County is already home to more charters than any other county in the state, and as many as 11 new ones could soon be seeking state approval.

But charters are clearly here to stay, and the best of them offer significant opportunities for innovation that can perhaps be replicated at other charters and at traditional public schools.

We have at times in the past sensed an implacable opposition to the charters among DPS board members and administrators. Again, we understand the frustration. It is easy to suggest that a demand for educational alternative on the part of parents is the driving force in the expansion – and that often is the case. But it’s also true that Durham’s particularly high per-pupil expenditures make this an especially lucrative market for charter schools – and the money comes out of DPS’s coffers.

The talk at DPS recently has been far more about finding common ground. DPS superintendent Eric Becoats stressed that position in a meeting with The Herald-Sun’s editorial board last week, and the Board of Education endorsed it Thursday night.

“Our vision incorporates a culture of cooperation, transparency, accountability and collegiality in the management of public education, rather than one of competition and division,” reads the vision statement adopted by the board Thursday. “We envision a climate of reciprocal trust in which we celebrate each other’s successes.”

Some of Durham’s charter schools have encouragingly acknowledged risks in too great a proliferation of the schools. 

Carl Forsyth, managing director at Durham’s Voyager Academy charter school, has called for a moratorium on new charters in Durham.

Alex Quigley, principal of Maureen Joy Charter School, in a column on these pages Saturday, urged the state to ensure higher accountability for charters and directly spoke to one of the greatest concerns many have about charters.

“Too many charter schools do not provide school bus transportation or free lunch, thereby limiting access to low-income students. It is imperative that we do not create private schools on the taxpayer dime,” Quigley wrote. Maureen Joy provides both transportation and free lunch, and is moving to an East Durham site closer to its many socioeconomically disadvantaged students’ homes.

Parent dissatisfaction with traditional public schools is real. Charter schools offer both hope for innovation and needed alternatives, but also pose the prospect of undermining a traditional schools system for which one of the virtues is universal access to education.

Collaboration holds far more promise for the success of both systems than does conflict and contention.