EDITORIAL: Charter a new course

This is a bad time for those who have lined up to throw stones at the concept of charter schools. According to scores released Friday, nearly 80 percent of the eighth-grade children failed to pass a standardized statewide math exam. And 65 percent of thes

It gets worse. There are some schools in southeast Queens where the failure rate reached 95 percent. We don't know whether the proposed charter schools will raise the scores for the same students – although we believe they will. But we don't see how anyone in light of this desperate situation can deny that the concept is worth trying.

The charter schools will take the power out of the hands of the bureaucrats at 110 Livingston St. and place it in the hands of the parents. On a week like this, the arguments against the charter schools ring especially hollow. For example, some opponents of the plan have charged that the charter school that the Rev. Floyd Flake has proposed represents a violation of the separation of church and state. But Rev. Flake has made it clear that he intends to do his preaching in the church. The purpose of his school is to give kids a quality education in a structured disciplined environment. By law, his school would have to be open to any student regardless of faith.

Like the other proposed charter schools, Flake's school would give parents a choice. The public school bureaucracy doesn't like that word. This was abundantly clear earlier this month when politicians and others packed a town meeting to denounce the Flushing International Charter School scheduled to open next year. There were two primary arguments against the school, neither of which hold much water. The first is that charter schools take tax dollars away from the overcrowded public schools in Queens. Well, yeah, but the schools also take away students. The same amount of tax dollars will be spent on the same amount of students, only in this case the parents get a choice in how those tax dollars will be spent.

The second thing that bothered some people was that the school would require all students to study Mandarin Chinese from first grade one. Now, in most, if not all public schools in Queens, students do not study any foreign language until they reach Junior High School. This is true even though it is widely believed that the best time to begin teaching a foreign language is when as child is very young. Their parents have no choice.

The myopic naysayers concluded that only the children of Chinese-American families would want to go to such a school. They are perfectly happy with a system that offers only Spanish and French. That's their choice. But there are other parents who understand that a fluency in Chinese will give their children an enormous advantage. With more than a billion people living in mainland China and the likelihood that this country will increasingly embrace a free market economy, Westerners who speak Chinese will write their own ticket.

Why should families of limited means be deprived of the right to send their children to schools like Rev. Flake's or the International School? We can almost guarantee readers that the students at the charters schools will not match the 80-percent failure rate in the public schools. And if we're wrong, if the students do not succeed, then at least the parents will know that sending their child to that school was a matter of choice.

In a letter in this week's paper, the director of the International School notes that, if in four years his school does not succeed, by law it must close. What will happen in four years to the public schools in Queens where 80 percent of the children cannot read or do basic math?