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Praise for charter schools

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There is an old saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that is the case, then charter schools in Albuquerque have a lot to be proud of. The recent initiatives by Albuquerque Public Schools to replicate successful charter schools are a clear indication that APS recognizes charter schools are very successful and benefit students.

While the creating of new “themed” schools, like the new APS dual-credit school, and their partnership with CNM is certainly newsworthy, it really is nothing new. Charter schools have been doing these things for years.

The original intent of the 1999 Charter School Act, co-sponsored by then-Sens. Mark Boitano and Richard Romero, was to allow parents, teachers, administrators, business members or community members to open a school to “try new and innovative methods of educating students” and bring those innovations back to the traditional school setting.

Southwest Secondary Learning Center and Amy Biehl Charter High School were two of the first schools in New Mexico to enter into dual-credit agreements with TVI (now CNM), UNM and New Mexico Tech. This led to the creation of the Early College Academy by APS. Today, Amy Biehl and Southwest Secondary have more students completing dual-credit courses than any other high school and most districts in New Mexico!

Locating the new APS dual-credit high school on the CNM campus is nothing new, either. AIMS, the Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science charter school, has been on the UNM campus for years, and the Native American Community Academy is partially housed at the UNM Law School.

AIMS was the first science and technology school in Albuquerque and was recently recognized by the Washington Post as one of the top 100 most challenging high schools in the nation.

Sandia High’s new International Baccalaureate program (IB) is a replication of the highly successful IB program at Cottonwood Classical Preparatory Charter High School. The IB program at Cottonwood has been in existence for many years. Cottonwood shared with APS information on its program, including schedules, course offerings and information about the IB accreditation visits and what they should be prepared for. APS staff were also invited to attend the New Mexico Association of International Baccalaureate Schools meetings that brought together all of the other IB schools in the state.

Why replicate these schools? The students at these charters do well academically. The schools have waiting lists of students wanting to enroll in them. Students don’t go to these schools because they have to; they go there because they want to. That is hugely important.

In addition, these schools are smaller and the instruction is more personalized, and students feel safer there – a fact that Think New Mexico has been pointing out for over four years using data drawn from charters.

A survey of the educational landscape in New Mexico shows that the replication of the charter programs is clearly a shift in the previous thinking of opposing charter schools to now competing with them.

There are certainly other charter schools in Albuquerque that have contributed to this shift as well. All charters, with their smaller enrollments and focus on meeting individual students’ needs, are clearly changing the way education is conducted in Albuquerque and in New Mexico.

Not only is the replication of the successful programs the right thing to do for students, it makes economic sense. It signifies the investment the state has made in charters, with the expectation that charters will help reform education, has been worth it.

Charters are designed to be incubators and innovators where educational initiatives can be quickly tested and adapted without having to go through huge layers of bureaucracy to make a change.

While the replication is flattering for charters, it is also a wakeup call for charters to continue to improve and to keep pushing the boundaries in innovating education. The bottom line is that students win, and that is what is important.

Bruce Hegwer, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools, writes a monthly column for the Journal.

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