DFER WA Director Responds to Justin Baeder's Article in EdWeek on Charter Schools in WA

Washington State Director of Democrats for Education Reform, Lisa Macfarlane, responds to Justin Baeder's recent article in Education Week, "Charter Rhetoric Heating Up in WA State."


What is heating up in Washington State is a desire to do better by our children. It is for that reason why those that have previously opposed charters (including myself) have switched sides to be supportive of this form of public education.

Why is there so much interest now in public charter schools for Washington State?

Because the status quo is keeping our poor and minority kids at an educational disadvantage.

Because it is unconscionable that an African American kid growing up in South Seattle or South King currently has an 11% chance of getting a college degree or career credential. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that, by 2018, 67% of the jobs in Washington State will require a college degree or a career credential. In the meantime, our region's high paying jobs are going to kids from other states and other countries.

Our achievement gaps are unacceptable and unconscionable. If we stay on our current path, Washington will close its achievement gaps in 105 years, according to the Center on Education Policy. States more committed to education reform, like Louisiana, will close their gaps in 12.5 years.

Charter school advocates are the first to admit that there are both good and bad charter schools, which are serving a higher proportion of minority and low income students than traditional public schools. But let's be honest. The high quality public charter schools, like K.I.P.P., Aspire, YES Prep, and Uncommon Schools are making major headway on helping disadvantaged kids succeed. They have given thousands of low-income and minority kids a fantastic education and, as a result, have changed the trajectory of their lives.

Washington has precious few traditional public schools serving the needs of low-income and minority students. A few good high achieving charters serving the kids in our high poverty communities would give us the proof points we so desperately need. The bill that is before the Washington legislature is very different from the ones voters turned down in the past. It focuses on educationally disadvantaged students and it takes advantage of the lessons learned in other states about the need for a strong authorizing environment.

In the meantime, fur is flying out here. Status-quoers are lining up behind the teacher's union, which is busy working on yet another misinformation campaign. (Apparently our union didn't get the memo about why the NEA, AFT, National Democratic Party, President Barack Obama, and other civil rights leaders support high quality public charter schools.)

It's troubling that the education establishment out here would rather blame poor performance on poverty and disengaged parents than open the door to the kind of innovation that is actually giving educationally disadvantaged kids brand new opportunities to succeed.

The fact that Washington's charter haters have drawn a new round of battle lines is not surprising. The problem is that eight years after the last fight, they look like the equivalent of education's flat earthers. The kind of innovation and success that high quality charter schools have achieved is not a threat. It's an opportunity that our poor and minority kids deserve.

P.S. This is not about funding. Few have worked harder to increase school funding in Washington State than yours truly. The current charter school conversation/debate is all about giving educationally disadvantaged kids better choices and better futures.


Lisa Macfarlane, Washington State Director of Democrats for Education Reform.

Lisa Macfarlane used to be a charter opponent; she managed the phone bank in the 1996 NO charter school campaign. She is the Washington State Director for Democrats for Education Reform, a co-founder of the League of Education Voters, a past President of Schools First (Seattle's levy and bond committee), the sponsor of two statewide education funding initiatives, and a PCO in the 46th District. Read more about Lisa here.