THE SCHOOL REFORM Commission, rather than approve any more charter schools for the school district, looks poised to find another role for 15 charter applicants: give them a chance to take over poorly performing district schools.

The SRC this week is expected to turn thumbs down on the new charter school applicants but ask them instead to bid on converting some of the district's most academically troubled schools into charters.

We don't expect the charter applicants to trip over themselves in a rush to sign up. And frankly, who could blame them for being reluctant?

The 70 schools, known as Corrective Action II schools, have failed to meet federal No Child Left Behind standards for two consecutive years over five years. The problem vexed the district so much that it created a task force in October 2007.

The district has made the right call in recognizing that its current budget challenges call for more of its own schools to be reformed, not additional independent charters. (By fall, 63 charters will educate more than 30,000 students at a cost of $317 million.) And surely there are compelling aspects to charter schools: They are typically smaller and they have more independence from educational mandates. In 2007, 64 percent of the charter schools made Adequate Yearly Progress, but only 43 percent of the district-managed schools did.

But charters, for all their value, are not without problems, and the district has just begun to demand more accountability from them.

Neither charters nor EMOs have unlocked the secret to educational success. Without more insight into why the failing schools have not been able to get on a more positive track, turning them into charters has a faintly desperate air: Call the problem something else and maybe it will go away.

It's unclear how turning a low-performing school into a charter inherently gives it more of a chance, since one of the appeals, and benefits, of charters is choice - on both sides. We doubt many charter operators would be happy giving up input into student selection. Maybe the answer to improving these schools involves more teachers, more supplies and support structure.

Educational management organizations are also expected to be asked to take on more low-performing schools, and are in a better position to do so.

But the takeover idea leaves charters, and the independent spirit that creates them, too little to gain and too much to lose. *