Melissa Westbrook Gets Positive on Seattle Public Schools

A longtime critic of local school leadership, Westbrook has turned her ire toward charter schools.

Longtime education activist and blogger Melissa Westbrook is often a sharp critic of the school-system establishment. Now, in heading a group that will fight a state initiative that would allow for the establishment of charter schools, she will be acting as a booster of the public schools whose leaders she is often so critical of.

In a press release for the group No on 1240 (1240 is the initiative's number), she outlined the criticism of charters, of course, including their mostly mediocre performance around the country. But she also listed roughly a dozen upbeat developments relating to schools around the state—the point being that we don't need charters to swoop in and save us from a "failing" system, as charter-school proponents like to say.

It's an impressive list, with some bullet items that many people might not have heard about. The White House, for instance, honored Rainier Beach High PTSA president Carlina Brown last month as a "Champion of Change." That's right, Rainier Beach—a school that is perpetually and dramatically underenrolled. Yet, apparently thanks in part to the PTSA's "kick-ass" efforts—as Westbrook put it speaking to SW—the school is starting a highly regarded International Baccalaureate program.

Also, Westbrook notes, Beacon Hill's Mercer Middle School, with three-quarters of its students poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, is busting out on its test scores. On state tests, students perform in percentiles ranging from the upper 70s to lower 80s—on a par with middle schools in the most prosperous parts of the city.

Westbrook's No on 1240 campaign joins another group in opposing charters, the labor-backed People for Our Public Schools. They face an astonishingly well-funded "Yes" campaign, which has so far raised more than $4 million—including $1 million from Bill Gates, whose foundation has long supported charters. Westbrook's group, in contrast, has raised approximately $8,000. Even with the support of the powerful SEIU, People for Our Public Schools has only collected about $189,000.

Guess whose message is more likely to be heard? It would be a shame, though, if Westbrook's got lost, because it's good to be aware, among all the usual complaints, of what's worth celebrating in the public schools.

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