News this week that Gov. Deval Patrick supports lifting the cap on charter schools is welcome. But the focus on this relatively new tool shouldn’t slow efforts to sharpen the ones we already have.

Education consultant Jeff Howard on Thursday compared those fixated on the promise of charter schools to a homeowner convinced his house is cold because the furnace is broken. The homeowner spends a small fortune on a new furnace but still doesn’t get any heat. Only then does he realize the problem was an empty oil tank.


News that Gov. Deval Patrick supports lifting the cap on charter schools in the state’s worst performing districts is a good sign that he sees their value in closing the achievement gap between students who are poor and those who are not. But the focus on this relatively new tool shouldn’t slow efforts to sharpen the ones we already have.


Speaking Thursday at a symposium sponsored by MassINC, state Secretary of Education Paul Reville announced Patrick’s intention to file legislation allowing the poorest performing school districts in the state to open new charter schools, which incorporate innovative approaches to education along with longer school days and longer school years.


It was encouraging to hear that the legislation will also include provisions designed to take the best charter school practices and apply them to traditional public schools.


That’s important because, as Reville said, the fervor over charter schools too easily leads to oversimplified thinking on what needs to change in education.


Howard, head of a nonprofit education reform agency called Efficacy Institute, said he isn’t against charter schools, which in many cases have seen great success where traditional schools have failed. He simply suggests there are ways of incorporating the best of charter school practices into public schools so that benefits reach more students.


He held up as an example Brockton High School, which he said has had the same success as charter schools in closing the achievement gap between underprivileged students and their middle class peers.


Howard, Reville and a third panelist, Jim Peyser of NewSchools Venture Fund, all agreed that one of the key elements to success with underprivileged students is more intensive study, which means longer days and longer school years.


The approach is at the heart of the charter school model. But Howard told educators there’s no reason it can’t be put at the heart of traditional schools as well.


We saw a sign of that shift in thinking this week in Easton.


Southeastern Regional Technical Vocational High School plans to extend the school day until 4 p.m. in September, offering students 90 minutes of extra instruction in academics, enrichment, sports and remedial support.


We wouldn’t be surprised if this change, along with its impressive MCAS results, lead to a surge in enrollment and lead other schools to consider similar changes.


The best of the state’s charter schools have seen amazing success with the state’s lowest achievers. Giving the worst performing school districts the option of increasing charter schools makes sense.


But educational leaders must continue pushing traditional schools to rethink their methods to achieve the same results.


The Patriot Ledger