In his Sept. 11 op-ed, "Charter Schools: Still Proving What Works," Jonathan Schorr said that "charters are not in themselves a reform strategy; they are a blank slate." I disagree. The rationale for giving public funds to charter schools is that when traditional public schools begin to lose students to the competition, they finally will implement reforms to stop the exodus.

Why are some charter schools not successful?

* Many are run by people without experience in education.

* Many are run by people with experience in education but who may not know about a better or different way of doing things.

* Like other start-up businesses, charter schools are businesses that may struggle in the beginning and need managers with crucial skills. Effective boards of directors also play an important role.

* Curriculum may not match student population.

Parents with children who are doing well in neighborhood schools almost certainly will leave them there. For those whose children are struggling or not being educated, charter schools and vouchers become an escape hatch. But when this population reaches charter schools, many are years behind academically, and the established curriculum has no answers for them. At the Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy, this problem was so bad that the original curriculum had to be scrapped.

* The facility allotment means that charter schools must comb the hot District real estate market for properties that rent for about $10 per square foot. The result is that kids are educated in spaces that may lack good ventilation, temperature control, noise abatement and personal space. I have seen students taking final exams while wearing their winter coats. Loan guarantees, from Sallie Mae and others, help charter schools receive needed financing, but they do not solve the basic problem of having to break the budget to rent or purchase property.

Charter schools and their accrediting bodies are learning from past mistakes, but progress is slow and that has led to much criticism.



The writer is a member of the board of trustees of the William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts and is a former member of the board of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy.

Jonathan Schorr's op-ed noted that the late American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Al Shanker nurtured the idea of allowing public schools greater autonomy to explore promising reforms and innovations, while maintaining high standards for achievement and accountability. Mr. Schorr called it a "bargain of freedom in exchange for results." And it's an idea the AFT agrees with to this day. However, while some charter schools are effective, the charter school movement as a whole too often has flouted accountability.

One possible sanction in the federal No Child Left Behind Act for schools that do not meet the law's benchmarks is restructuring as a charter school. Yet the federal government recently withheld the results for charter school students who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the test widely referred to as "the nation's report card."

The AFT found and released the data not as a "salvo," as Mr. Schorr put it, but so that parents and policymakers could have information they have every right to see.



American Federation of Teachers