Where Is The Charter School Movement Heading?

How much does a sign reading “CHARTER SCHOOL” reveal about the education being offered inside the building? My answer: About as much as a ’RESTAURANT’ sign reveals about the food it serves. That is, nothing at all. This sad state of affairs makes me wonder whether the charter school movement has been hijacked or, at a minimum, has strayed off course. If it has lost its way, whose responsibility is it to restore order and integrity?

I posed that general question to a number of leaders in the charter school arena and will share some of their answers below, but let me explain why I am bringing up the subject.

I’ve been following the story since 1988, when a number of educators convened near the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota to develop an idea that had been put forth–separately–by Albert Shanker, the teacher union leader, and Ray Budde, a Massachusetts educator. You will recognize the names of some of those who participated: Mr. Shanker, Joe Nathan, State Senator Ember Reichgott, Ted Kolderie and Sy Fliegel. (I was there as the moderator.)

The basic idea that emerged was than any school district could create a ‘charter school’–essentially free of nearly all regulations–that would allow exploration of new models of teaching and learning. These charter {{1}} schools, people hoped, would incubate and then spread innovations.  Taking risks would be OK because only a small number of willing parents, students and teachers would be involved.

In the era of great enthusiasm for parental choice, the planners didn’t want people to be allowed to open charter schools just because they were ‘enthusiastic’ or public-spirited.  As Ted Kolderie explains in his new book, the planners insisted on an authorizing body that would scrutinize applicants and grant charters only to those who had the qualifications to run a school. {{2}}

Three years later Minnesota passed the first charter school law, and in 1992 the nation’s first charter school opened {{3}}.  Today at least 5,000 charter schools {{4}} in 41 states enroll about 2.4 million students–but almost none of these charter schools are ‘incubators of innovation’ working with a school district, as the planners had envisioned.

Both school districts and teacher unions ended up opposing the idea. The ‘authorizer as means of setting a high standard’ was diluted to the point of meaningless when some states decided to allow just about anybody to authorize the opening of charter schools. And in some states, authorizers have in turn allowed every Tom, Dick and Harry to set up charter schools.

Some states banned charter schools outright, while others set limits, often low ones, on the number that would be allowed.  Some states appeared to approve charter schools but added a crippling condition: no state funds could be used for facilities. That meant would-be charter school operators had to first raise enough money to acquire a building before they could enroll students or hire teachers and quality for state funds.

A few states–notably Michigan, Ohio and Florida–specifically encouraged for-profit charter schools. To see how disastrously that’s turned out in Michigan, you must read the results of a 1-year investigation by the Detroit Free Press.  It’s a stunning story of greed, mismanagement and failure of oversight that is being reported this week.

Earlier this year the left-leaning Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education published “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud and Abuse,” its title taken from a report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Inspector General.

This report charges that $100 million in taxpayer funds have been lost, stolen or misspent. it cites six areas of abuse:

Charter operators using public funds illegally for personal gain;
School revenue used to illegally support other charter operator businesses;
Mismanagement that puts children in actual or potential danger;
Charters illegally requesting public dollars for services not provided;
Charter operators illegally inflating enrollment to boost revenues; and,
Charter operators mismanaging public funds and schools.”

Overall, charter schools have not been a smashing success academically speaking.  Several studies (.pdf) have indicated that about one-third of charter schools significantly outperform their traditional counterparts, while another third underperform them.

These waves of bad news threaten to obscure the movement’s successes. Over the years a number of Charter Management Organizations (called that to distinguish them from the for-profit charter groups, which are known as “Education Management Organizations”) have established successful chains of charter schools. The best-known CMO is KIPP, for Knowledge is Power Program, but Yes Prep, Achievement First, IDEA Public Schools and a few others have attracted a strong following among parents dissatisfied with traditional public schools…and have demonstrated significant academic gains.

The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools will be meeting soon in Las Vegas, which is why I raise the issue of the movement’s future at this point. In fact, I posed my questions to Nina Rees, the Executive Director of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, Reed Hastings, the Californian who strongly supports charter schools, Joe Nathan and Ted Kolderie, two who were key players at that 1988 meeting, and Greg Richmond, the leader of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Greg Richmond and Reed Hastings were quick to point out that the influence of the profit-seekers was diminishing. Here’s part of Greg’s response:

The share of charter schools run by for-profit companies appears to have been flat for the past few years. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows a range of 11% to 13% over their most recent years of data (2008 to 2011) with a decrease in for-profits as a percent of the whole sector from 13% to 12.3% for the most recent year. The National Education Policy Center, no fan of charter schools, in its most recent report (released November 2013 with 2011-12 data) states “we estimate that the actual number of EMO-managed public schools has remained relatively stable over the past few years, and that large companies are diversifying into supplemental educational services rather than expanding in the full-service management area.

However, Richmond believes that the profit-seeking 100% virtual charter schools, which are growing in number, are a big problem in the charter community.

Their results are uniformly bad, and they have undue political influence in state capitols. Some important charter advocates would like to figure out a way to “kick them out” of the charter school movement.

My colleague John Tulenko did a piece for the NewsHour about one cyber-charter in Pennsylvania that you may have seen. Shortly after John’s piece aired, the founder was indicted.

I also asked about the influence of ideologues on the charter school movement. Some dismissed this, but Greg Richmond believes that those with blind faith in the free market–complete deregulation and parental choice–have been hurting the charter movement.

What I saw in New Orleans {{5}} supports Richmond’s point about the need for some regulation, because Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard learned that the independent charter schools had to be regulated and supervised or else some of them would play fast and loose {{6}} with the system and weed out (or not admit) students who might not do well academically or who were more expensive to educate.  Dobard saw it happening and worked to create universal standards on behavior, suspension and expulsion.

Richmond cites an activist group, the Center for Education Reform (CER), as the leading voice of this free market philosophy but adds,

The CER is much less influential than it used to be. After two decades of experience, few people in the charter movement believe that choice and deregulation are guaranteed to produce superior results. Those are good things, but talented teachers, great school leaders, adequate funding, facilities and high standards are just as important, if not more so.

Could the threat to the charter school movement come from the non-profits, not the profit-seekers?  It’s possible.  The non-profit Charter Management Organizations (CMO) are the fastest growing component of the charter movement. They represented just 11.5% of charter schools in 2008, but jumped to 20.2% in 2011.

In his new book, Ted Kolderie bemoans the division between these ‘franchise’ operations and the stand-alone charter schools, which detractors dismiss as “Mom and Pop” operations. In turning its back on individual charter schools,the charter movement is losing its way, Kolderie believes.  It’s in those individual schools that innovation is more likely to occur, he told me, because the franchises stress sameness, just like Burger King and McDonalds.

Greg Richmond sees the same divide as a threat. He wrote, in part,

The people who run these (stand alone) schools are interested in running their one school, not growing a network. Many of them came out of their local districts. They don’t like how the district was run, but they don’t inherently hate the district. They want the district to succeed too. These folks have real philosophical differences with the pro-growth, charter network people, while the network people believe that the stand-alone people are naïve.

Governmental and foundation policies support the CMO’s, whether it’s funding from the U.S. Department of Education or the newly established Broad Prize for Charter Schools, a cash award of $250,000 that goes to a CMO.{{7}}  There is no equivalent award for a stand-alone charter school.

How painfully ironic would it be if the dominance of networks stifled the innovation that the founders of the charter school movement saw as the fundamental advantage of chartering in the first place?

If the clash of philosophies between charter networks and the stand-alone schools is real, relevant and threatening to the stand-alone schools, whose responsibility is it to make sure that the playing field is level?

Nina Rees, the executive director of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, suggested that the responsibility for keeping the movement on course rests with authorizers and, should they fail, politicians. Perhaps, but shouldn’t the Alliance itself support even-handed treatment of networks and stand-alone charter schools? Shouldn’t the Alliance be speaking out against too-easy authorization of would-be charter operators?  Shouldn’t the Alliance stand firmly in favor of more effective and transparent ways of holding failing charter schools accountable?  Shouldn’t it be praising effective state charter school laws, and criticizing those laws that hurt the charter movement by opening the door to unscrupulous people?

I believe the charter movement is off course for another reason: Like the rest of public education, it is hostage to our obsession with test scores as the bottom line measure of school quality.  Charter schools could be leading the conversation about multiple measures of school and teacher effectiveness, but it seems to me that many of them have bought into the bubble test mania.

Charter schools were conceived of as pockets of innovation and cooperation.  We finally found {{8}} a school district that has welcomed charter schools and is striving to learn from them. Sometime in the next week or two the PBS NewsHour will carry our report about Spring Branch, Texas, where Superintendent Duncan Klussman has invited KIPP and Yes Prep to open schools inside two of his middle schools.  As you will see, the relationship is, so far at least, mutually beneficial, although it appeared to us that the charter schools are having a stronger impact on the traditional schools, not vice-versa.  But that’s as it should be, if charter schools are pushing the inside of the envelope.

The term “Charter School” has to stand for something; right now its meaning is in doubt, and that’s not good. I cannot be in Las Vegas for the annual meeting of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, but I hope some of the ideas above will be part of the conversations there.

—-

[[1]]1. Ted Kolderie and others call them ‘chartered schools.’[[1]]

[[2]]2. “The Split Screen Strategy: Improvement and Innovation,” Beaver’s Pond Press, 2014. Joe Nathan, who was at the 1988 meeting, sent me a note with the following information: The authorizer function was included in part because of research I had done on the GI Bill and some of the scandals at that time.  It was clear that just offering choice was not enough.  There needed to be an organization that would review proposals and determine which represented coherent, good ideas presented by people who had the skills & experience needed to carry them out.  We knew from the beginning that the authorizer role was vital.  Joe’s 1996 book, Charter Schools: Creating Hope and Opportunity, has more on this point.[[2]]

[[3]]3. In Saint Paul. Some charter opponents doubted that advocates would support closing ineffective schools, or those where there was corruption.  It’s widely known that the first charter to open was in Minnesota.  What’s not so widely known is that the first charter to close was also in Minnesota.  Joe Nathan testified (against the wishes of some people) in favor of closing. The Minnesota State Board of Education closed the school.
[[3]]

[[4]]In recent years numbers of Catholic parochial schools have converted to charter schools. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/11/35catholic_ep.h33.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS1 [[4]]

[[5]]5. Our film, “Rebirth: New Orleans,” is available on Netflix. It’s the result of six years of filming there.[[5]]

[[6]]6.  For evidence ot that in other places: http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/from-portfolios-to-parasites-the-unfortunate-path-of-u-s-charter-school-policy/ [[6]]

[[7]]7. This year it will go to KIPP, IDEA Public Schools or Achievement First.  The award will be presented in Las Vegas. Joe Nathan and I are among those who have voiced the opinion that there should be a significant monetary award for outstanding independent charter schools.[[7]]

[[8]]8. I learned about the experiment from Richard Whitmire’s new book about charter schools, On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope (Wiley, 2014) After I published the blog, Joe Nathan offered other examples of district/charter collaboration, including his own city of St. Paul, where, he reports, the two have been working together to increase the number of low income students taking dual (High school/college credits), and Massachusetts, where the charter law has helped encourage creation of Pilot Schools within the district.  He added, “The existence of chartering in Minnesota helped encourage the Forest Lake district to open a Montessori district school; it helped encourage the Rochester district to open a Core Knowledge option, and it has encouraged the Minneapolis teachers union to propose (and the legislature to adopt) a “site governed” district school option.”[[8]]

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15 thoughts on “Where Is The Charter School Movement Heading?

  1. John, as always, you manage to tap into much of the same education concerns that keep me awake at night, putting a face on the phantoms and boogie-men that I’m not as good at revealing as you are. I was willing to push my vague apprehensions to the back in the early ’90s when the concept was explained to me. It was a cautionary note written by a NJ teacher and union rep, I think called “The Walmartization of America’s Schools,” in the late ’90s that gave some shape to what I may have been instinctively concerned about. And, over time, I have come to recognize more and more aspects of that apprehension, including a sentence from Deborah Meier that you included in your book, “The Influence of Teachers,” a couple of years ago: “…. Schools can be the centers of a revived public life—or another symptom of a disintegrating common purpose.” Charters alone are not the problem, but they are definitely symptomatic of an ever-growing divide across the American public about what is the common good and the purpose it serves in such a diverse society. Thanks for keeping an eye on the situation and sharing the benefit of your perch.

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    • Thank you….
      We always want the simple answer, unfortunately. I think the entire system’s tendency to worship test scores hurts charter schools and traditional schools alike, and significantly.

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      • It’s not the “entire system” that worships test scores. Teachers don’t. But the department of education in DC, and Arne Duncan certainly do. Look at Duncan’s absurd remarks about special needs students needing to get higher test scores!

        It’s RttT, son of NCLB that’s pushing the bubble tests.

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  2. The charter school movement is both extremely political and, in some very important ways, undemocratic. It is not surprising that it is political since the continued existence of the schools is totally dependent on public funding and the natural incentive of institutons dependent on public funds is to assure continued funding and limit any obstacles such as serious independent accountability. The central justification for the movement is that schools that are not under the ultimate control of elected officials are, in their nature, superior. There is no evidence that this is true and no evidence that charters, because they are autonomous are, on average better or that they offer better educational opportunities.. If there is no general evidence of superior performance, some serious evidence of corruption, etc., and there is no democratic control and they are subtracting resources from accountable public schools and fragmenting educational efforts, there are fundamental problems. In addition we have long known that choice systems without basiic civil rights and equity provisions, which are generally lacking in charters, tend to deepen stratification and segregation and further disadvantage those who are already disadvantaged. You have to have a romantic view of unregulated markets to continue to press for expanding this sector or heading toward something like the end game in New Orleans where the public system no longer exists.
    No one is proposing anything like this for the suburbs, which have stronger schools and want to have democratic control of their children’s education.

    This does not mean that we should not try to find a way to recognize and continue the charters that are truly successful, when independly evaluated, perhaps along the pilot school model, but it does mean that we absolutely need to stop and think about how to evaluate and control this process before it gets totally out of hand and we have neither schools that perform better nor democratic control of the schools that serve the kids who need good schools the most.

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    • I personally favor structures where maximum influence, power and responsibility reside in the school itself. That can be a chartered school, of course, but there are other approaches, including teacher-led schools.
      As New Orleans demonstrates, some central oversight is required, because some people will always break or bend the rules. Financial transparency is essential, and nepotism must be banned.
      I could go on

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  3. Thanks for a detailed piece on charters. I’m a parent of public school children and I work in the higher ed space — I agree that charters have the potential to help improve public education but it’s not on the right track. Last week, the Arizona Charter Schools Association authored a pro-charter opinion piece on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Arizona legislation that enabled charter schools.

    http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2014/06/14/charter-schools-give-parents-choices-want/10500737/

    I didn’t agree with their logic — I think it’s faulty logic rife with selection bias. The top charters are only successful because they end up enrolling mostly successful students. I wrote my own letter to the editor refuting their stance in hopes of bringing some rationality to the argument:

    http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/letters/2014/06/16/charter-schools-successful-due-enrolling-mostly-successful-students/10646139/

    Thanks again for the well thought out post.

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  4. Thank you John for unpacking the policy and political issues swirling around charter schools in the United States. Sarah Carr’s “vivid and sobering portrait” of charter schools as well as school “reform” in the early days of the 21st century (http://www.amazon.com/Hope-Against-Struggle-Americas-Children/dp/1608194906- speak powerfully to many of the issues you raise here in your insightful post.

    Now Teacher-Powered Schools — led by both Ted Kolderie’s organization, Education Evolving, and the Center for Teaching Quality offer a new and different way for teachers, those who work directly with students, families, and communities daily, emerge as transformative forces for teaching and learning — and put the common good back into the center of school reform.

    http://www.teacherpowered.org/about/supporters.html

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  5. As you say, the initial thrust in many/most cases was educational with a goal to improve practice, outcomes, experience and to allow for experimentation and innovation, Unfortunately, in many (most?) cases, the concept was hijacked by people with a political agenda – either downplay public education or break up public education monopolies such as unions and districts, This political drive (as opposed to educational) allowed for what happened in Michigan,and of course operators who set up a non-profit school but then employ the founders at great expense to operate the schools. I have been looking for cost-comparisons between charters and independent schools, but haven’t found any studies. Anecdotally, I have heard of significant efficiencies and better outcomes at independents. Here is one discussion which touches on it – http://teaching-abc.blogspot.com/2012/08/public-or-not.html

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  6. It never ceases to amaze me that charter school opponents and those who question the validity of parent choice in education always point fingers to the unsuccessful and refuse to acknowledge outstanding charter school models. As a mother who chooses to be a partner in the education of my children, I experience the positive power of charter schools and virtual schools every single day! Why call out charters as evil for-profits? Every single school in operation deals in some aspect with for-profit entities. And, sure, charters have become subjected to the “bubble mindset”, giving into standardize testing but only because of unwavering federal and state regulations. I think you would be hard pressed to find any that would say they have “bought in” to that method of evaluation. I respect teachers tremendously…I am a former high school English teacher, but who knows my child better than I do? It is this fact that often scares districts from authorizing and teachers from embracing charter schools. Say what you will, but public charter schools and virtual schools are not going away. In today’s American society, we are all about choice and freedom in every aspect of life except in one most important area…the future of our country, the education of our children.

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  7. Very interesting article, John. I’m a professor in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, and one of the projects I’m working on right now is a research study that seeks to answer the question I think you’re really asking – are charter schools worth it?

    The report builds upon the revenue study Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands that my team released last month, which found that public charter schools across the U.S. now receive on average $3,509 less per pupil than traditional public schools, a funding gap that continues to widen.

    We wanted to take our findings a step further, by analyzing that revenue data in combination with data provided by CREDO at Stanford University to show the Return on Investment (ROI) that public charter schools provide compared to traditional public schools. We did this for 20 states and D.C., to show which states offer the best ROI based on dollars spent compared to achievement results. I agree with you that student achievement is an incomplete measure of school productivity but it is the only one we have across all schools in multiple states. We also examined how attending a charter school can impact an individual’s expected lifetime earning potential.

    We’re planning to release the study in just a couple weeks, and are looking forward to contributing to what is a complicated, yet fascinating, debate.

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  8. John,

    I think there are many people in the charter schools movement who see it more as a “last, best hope,” versus a “silver bullet” for bringing improvement to scale. I know we do.

    I believe a big part of the problem is our delivery system, as Joe Graba, Ted Kolderie’s colleague at Education Evolving, pointed out in an eloquent presentation over ten years ago at the Philanthropy Roundtable (see:http://www.educationevolving.org/pdf/Graba-CreatingNewSchools.pdf).

    Education is a local responsibility that is strongly influenced by federal policies that are often guided or administered by state agencies that hold those local districts and schools accountable according to a variety of schemes that are subject to constant change. We have district schools, magnet schools, alternative schools, charter schools, special education collaboratives etc., some featuring choice, limited choice or no choice for parents and very opaque ways for parents to look at “quality.”

    Everyone is responsible and no one is responsible for success at the same time.

    I have found that most educators, regardless of the delivery system within which they work, like data since it enables them to measure the progress of their students’ learning. If we don’t measure progress, how do we know students are learning? It is when cut scores are used to take decisions out of the hands of school leaders and teachers that real problems set in.

    I have also found that most educators, regardless of the delivery system within which they work, innovate to work around existing constraints or to implement instructional methods or research new approaches. I have found a great willingness on the part of educators to share practices that have positive effects on teaching and learning with other educators–regardless of the delivery system within which they work.

    Our policy framework has established competing education systems. The problem, it seems to me, comes from the incentives and the disincentives that are, often, the unanticipated consequences of this policy framework that tends to raise barriers to bringing effective practices from charters to districts or vice versa.

    A charter school, like ours, might develop an evidence-based innovation that is awarded an Investing in Innovation grant. Through communities of practice, this innovation might be introduced to principals of the adjoining district who might pilot it (against the wishes of their Superintendent but strongly supported by their faculty), improve child outcomes in a measurable way, and then be discarded with the Principal reassigned and the district’s instructional program restored despite a lack of evidence of effectiveness in improving literacy and math skills and school ready behaviors.

    My point is: it isn’t so much a matter of charters having lost their way, or the effectiveness of charters as schools where innovative teaching and learning can be piloted or brought to scale.
    It is a systemic issue that involves federal, state, district and charter school officials that, often, are pitted against each other in zero sum policy matters as a consequence of policy.

    The bigger and more important issue is: when will we recognize that the chronic underperformance of our competing public schools systems in educating all students to high standards is the biggest, manageable threat to our democratic tradition and economic position? If we truly understood that, established clear goals and re-set policies to eliminate barriers to all schools working toward those goals, we could find more success in bringing effective practices to scale and improving the performance of more schools.

    The fact that most reading this post would see this as unachievable is the tragedy of our elected officials’ current unwillingness or inability to govern.

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  9. As a fan of yours, I was a bit disappointed in this blog posing a mish-mash of questions seemingly aimed at justifying a pre-conceived conclusion that the charter school movement is off course. Your piece dismissed the great news coming out of many of our charter schools, the body of recent research from Mathematica and Stanford showing the increases in test scores by our neediest students, and the overwhelming popularity of charter schools among parents. How else can one justify the ever increasing wait lists associated with many of our schools?

    You specifically asked what my organization is doing to ensure the even-handed treatment of networks and stand-alone schools, what we did to encourage stronger authorizing practices and how we pushed for quality chartering while keeping unscrupulous people from opening schools. Let’s take these points one by one.

    Even-Handed Treatment
    Today, over 60 percent of charter schools are single-site, stand-alone schools, 20 percent are part of networks (most of which operate fewer than 20 schools) and 12 percent are managed by for–profit companies. As you know, we have long supported the even-handed treatment of networks and stand-alone schools. In published recent paper, Free to Succeed: Public Charter Schools & the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we advocated continuing to expand access to high-quality charter schools by supporting the creation of new schools and the expansion and replication of charter schools that are producing results.

    We recently put these words into action by fighting this year, as in past years, to ensure that the largest of the six grant competitions within the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) – the State Educational Agency (SEA) competition – continues to receive the biggest share of the funding. This competition provides funds to SEAs, which in turn provide start-up grants to charter school founding groups. It is the primary vehicle for providing start-up support to stand-alone schools.

    We also worked closely with Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House as they passed a bill (H.R. 10) to reauthorize the CSP by a bipartisan vote of 360-45 – an amazing accomplishment in today’s political climate. A key part of this bill reforms and expands the SEA competition to ensure it better supports stand-alone schools.

    Our role in ensuring quality and accountability
    Here are just a few examples:

    We have produced a variety of state-specific reports calling for stronger school and authorizer accountability. As just one example, early in the life of the Alliance in 2006, we released a report with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute called Turning the Corner to Quality: Policy Guidelines for Strengthening Ohio’s Charter Schools. Three of its key recommendations were: (1) Immediately initiate a “house-cleaning” process that identifies the poorest performing charter schools and requires all such schools to obtain re-approval or close, (2) Deter “sponsor hopping” by prohibiting any closed school or school placed on probation from seeking a new sponsor, and (3) Implement a performance-based Sponsor Evaluation System. Ohio has enacted policies on all three of these fronts, although more work still needs to be done there.

    Most significantly, thanks to Todd Ziebarth on our team, we have helped improve state laws in a variety of ways, including in how they address school and authorizer accountability:

    *In 2009, we released A New Model Law For Supporting The Growth of High-Quality Public Charter Schools. This model law broke new ground on school and authorizer accountability policy.

    *Since 2010, we have released an annual report that scores and ranks each state’s charter school law against 20 components from our model law. Each year, this report receives extensive media coverage, drawing attention to those states doing it well and those states that need to step it up.

    *We partnered with advocates in Maine, Washington, and Mississippi to ensure that these three states’ laws – the most recent to enact charter school laws – were well-aligned to the model law, particularly as it relates to school and authorizer accountability.

    *We have worked with advocates in the following 23 states to enact laws to strengthen school and authorizer accountability: Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

    We are the first to say that bad charter schools should close. Authorizers must do their jobs to ensure charter schools that aren’t measuring up can’t continue enrolling students. And lawmakers should pass strong accountability and transparency requirements for all public schools— and schools should meet them or close. Period.

    To ignore the extensive body of work that we have produced over the years calling for increasing quality standards and the closure of poor performing schools is to leave your readers with a quite skewed view of our position.

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  10. One thing that I’ve struggled with in the charter movement is reading about what’s happened in New Orleans. That city is now almost entirely run by charter networks. Fine. Many of the education reformers who have swarmed to the city (including TFA) have done so in the name of joining a civil rights movement of high expectations education, where all children are expected to succeed. This sounds good to me. Really, it does I’m not being sarcastic here. Let’s try something different if the traditional publicly elected school board, district, teachers union, etc…isn’t working.

    But then you hear that special education students and their families are filing lawsuits against the New Orleans school system because no one wants them anymore.

    http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/students-with-disabilities-encounter-discrimination-in-new-orleans-schools

    So I’m confused. If effective public education, especially in high poverty areas, is the civil rights issue of our time as many education reformers state, why would the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, be filing a lawsuit on behalf of our most vulnerable special needs students, in the city where we supposedly have the most education innovation on behalf of civil rights? Duncan said the hurricane was the best thing that happened to New Orleans’ school system. Is this better?

    Federal law requires that special needs students receive a free and appropriate education, even if it’s expensive (sometimes in the tens of thousands of dollars per student per year). I don’t believe a civil rights movement (education reform) is legitimate if it then causes a certain group of people (in this case students with disabilities) to have to file a lawsuit to protect themselves from discrimination.

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