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Charter school makes case Enterprise retrenches, but test scores offer good reasons for district renewal

As the Board of Education debates the future of the district's own Enterprise Charter School, each member should ask one salient question: Are students in this school better off because of its existence?

The unmistakable answer, when looking at current student performance, must be a resounding yes. Therefore, the charter school deserves to be granted a five-year relicensing.

If that were not the case, then the school -- opened in 2003, under a different School Board and in a different educational climate -- legitimately would face the possibility of closure. As a story by Buffalo News education reporter Peter Simon in Monday's editions noted, charter schools face even tougher standards than district schools, and seven have been shut down statewide.

But Enterprise, which as a district-sponsored school faces a two-step review that's even harder than that faced by independent charters, isn't anywhere near that stage. In fact, given recent test scores, Enterprise Charter School should sail through the relicensing process.

The school started with kindergarten through eighth grade and added a grade each year, a decision school officials may now regret. At the urging of the state Board of Regents, they recently decided to close the add-on high school where student performance averaged below standard.

Still, Buffalo's School Board should consider the mitigating circumstances -- the enrollment of high school students who hadn't benefited from Enterprise's elementary school preparation, where test scores have improved significantly. But charter schools have long been a political hot button, and this situation is no different.

Enterprise's elementary school pupils have performed respectably in comparison to traditional public schools in recent tests, posting a marked improvement over the school's initial years. Although the middle school grades still need strengthening, Enterprise is beginning to hit its stride and the better outcomes for pupils are working their way up through the grades as the school matures.

The School Board renewal process, as the initial approval period ends, is being watched closely. Enterprise was first approved by a School Board very interested in the concept of district-sponsored charter schools, but that support cooled with a subsequent board -- leaving Enterprise as one of only two charter schools licensed by the district.

This year's board elections brought in several new members who had campaign support from school unions, which have criticized charters. But the initial board questioning of Enterprise's renewal application seems to have less to do with that than with the outdated information board members received, showing lower test scores in seventh- and eighth-grade math. Test scores for those grades increased during the 2006-2007 school year, a fact that may have influenced some board members.

The decision on whether to relicense Enterprise Charter School should be based on current data. That has now been provided, and the board will again review the request. Board members might also consider a point raised by Florence Johnson, a board member at large, who accused the panel of giving greater scrutiny to Enterprise than it has to 16 traditional city schools on the state's watch list for poor academic performance.

Enterprise still needs to work hard to improve scores and exceed state standards, but it clearly has lifted its elementary school pupils to higher levels. As an experiment in education, it deserves continued School Board support.

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