A story in the World Herald on December 19, “OPS board preparing for charter school bills,” reports that several members of the OPS School Board expect charter school legislation to be introduced into the Nebraska Legislature next year, and want to be in a position to influence it. According to proponents, charter schools provide more choice for families who are dissatisfied with their own neighborhood school.
In debating this issue, it is important to keep in mind that the Learning Community already provides expanded educational choice in the metro Omaha area. In 2013-2014, 6,535 students, of whom 42% were eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch support, participated in the LC’s Open Enrollment program which allows great latitude in transferring into a different school district as long as space is available. FRL eligible students are provided free transportation for these transfers, at a cost of $5.4 million last year.
The above charts from the 2012-2013 LC Annual Report demonstrate very clearly the academic benefit provided by the Open Enrollment program. For example, the 237 FRL students who transferred into low FRL elementary schools scored as high in reading proficiency as the resident students. The 248 FRL students who transferred into high FRL elementary schools scored much higher in reading proficiency than the resident students. Similar results are true for mathematics although the proficiency numbers are lower.
The LC staff believes (see the 2013-2014 Annual Report) that the number of FRL students participating in open enrollment is too small to have an appreciable difference on closing the profound socio-economic achievement gap which exists in the Learning Community. However, the Open Enrollment program is still valuable as a safety valve for families who are looking for a different school environment.
Consider all of the educational choice which already exists for OPS students: many magnet programs, the Wilson Focus School in south Omaha, the Seventy-Five North partnership proposed for Howard Kennedy Elementary School, and the new privately funded Nelson Mandela Elementary School opening in Fall 2015.
On top of all this is the LC’s Open Enrollment program for any low-income student to transfer to a different school district with free transportation provided.
Nebraska does not need Charter Schools for the very simple reason that huge educational choice already exists where it is most needed, namely within the high poverty Omaha Public School District.
My comments are not intended to attack the author but are, rather, an effort to clarify a few points. My belief is that we have a better chance of providing a solution to a problem if we have a good understanding of the problem as well as the cause(s) of the problem.
Article: In debating this issue, it is important to keep in mind that the Learning Community already provides expanded educational choice in the metro Omaha area.
Comment: This sounds very good. I am a great believer in giving educational/school choice to the parents and their children. By “educational choice,” I assume that this means that Omaha is not rotating its teachers from school to school. Any kind of teacher rotation negates most of the advantages of school choice. To do so would have the effect of increasing enrollment in charter schools, private schools and homeschooling.
Article: Nebraska does not need Charter Schools for the very simple reason that huge educational choice already exists where it is most needed, namely within the high poverty Omaha Public School District.
• I’ll try to be as gentle as I can. Let’s accept that “huge educational choice … exists …. within the high poverty Omaha Public School District.” But some parents are still sending their children to charter schools or using other educational options. Therefore, there must be something about the schools in the high poverty Omaha Public School District that parents do not like.
• I did a little research on the Omaha Public School District. Violence should be a concern to all of us. Referring to gang assessment, “… The Omaha Public School (OPS) District, for example, is akin to “Fort Knox.” We do we say this? Because the OPS is one of the few school districts in the State of Nebraska that does not participate in the state- wide risk assessment nor is the district conducting any other publicly available risk assessment.” https://archive.org/stream/400429-gangreport/400429-gangreport_djvu.txt Thus, the OPS District almost certainly has a problem with gangs. Another site has similar comments. Although “African Americans account for less than 13% of city residents, they make up more than one third of OPS students (and about 11% of residents are Hispanics, comprising about 20% of OPS). Lerner writes that the city’s African American community is the fifth poorest in the nation, and experiences high violence and crime.” http://www.learningfirst.org/omaha-s-radical-experiment-school-integration
• Hopefully, even the casual reader will understand why parents are sending their children to charter schools.
Thanks for your response to my post. There’s no question about the high degree of poverty within OPS. While there is little, if any, overt violence within OPS, there certainly are many discipline problems that teachers and administrators have to deal with.
Educational choice is highly desirable and I believe that the best charter schools around the country are doing an excellent job. All I am saying is that we already have huge choice within the Omaha area Learning Community and the data I give above show that it is producing the positive results that are intended.
The LC is made up of 11 school districts all together. All of the districts are fully cooperating in making the Open Enrollment program within the LC work as intended to boost student achievement. If parents do not like their own (perhaps high poverty) neighborhood school, they are easily able to send them to a high achieving, low poverty school in an adjoining district, usually with free transportation.
In effect, Omaha already has a charter school program. It’s called the Learning Community!