The Madison School District just went through a successful school building referendum. Yet a key argument by opponents resonated with the public. The critics asked: Why not close an East Side school with falling enrollment to help pay for construction of a school on the far West Side where the number of students is increasing?
Enter a core of enthusiastic East Side parents pitching an idea they believe could fill Emerson at little cost and ease the pressure to construct yet another school elsewhere. If the parents are right, their proposal for turning Emerson into a charter school just might be the only way to save it from closing.
Charter schools are free from certain state rules and strive to innovate. The Emerson parents are proposing a “Studio School” that would emphasize the arts and technology. The charter school would start with two combined kindergarten-first grades next fall. It would feature more hands-on group projects driven by student interests. Yet core subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic would still be incorporated throughout school activities.
Madison’s stubborn teachers union has long been suspicious of charter schools. The union has taken a defensive position that presumes the very suggestion of a charter school implies that traditional schools are somehow inadequate.
The union shouldn’t feel insecure. Our traditional Wisconsin public schools do many great things in the face of daunting challenges. Yet public education can and must get better and try new things — even if some attempts fail.