The editors of the New York Times had an editorial the other day on the subject of the national charter school movement that made some important points. Their conclusions come as a result of findings by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. The Center for Education Reform is highly critical of the methodology utilized by CREDO to reach its conclusions. But the fundamental issues raised by the Times are still valid.
First, the editors state that poorly performing charter schools should be quickly closed and that in most jurisdictions this is not happening. While I am not an expert at what is taking place across America I have a strong suspicion that this is the case. The experience with charters in D.C. informs my opinion.
While the D.C. Public Charter School Board has been groundbreaking in their oversight of these alternative schools those at the lower end of the academic achievement scale have not been shuttered with sufficient speed. Fortunately, we have the Performance Management Framework. By this time in our history when a school spends more than two years at Tier 3 and is not improving then the revocation process must be started no matter where the institution is in their review period.
It is possible that the PCSB is concerned about the disruption to students such closings would cause. One way to minimize this impact, according to previous PCSB chair Tom Nida, would be for the board to have a pool of existing charters that have been pre-approved for emergency replication. This would be extremely helpful, for example, when it comes to Imagine Southeast, a school about to be closed which has an enrollment of over 600 students. I think this is an extremely fascinating concept that should be developed.
The other point made by the New York Times editors is that only charters with demonstrated high academic (and I would add governance) performance should be permitted to expand and replicate. Here in D.C. we have no issue with this argument as we have been adhering to it for years. However, one caveat that perhaps should be added to the criteria for adding more students is that the school has a plan in place for training future school leaders in the specific program that has led the charter to be successful. In a conversation the other evening Mr. Nida mentioned this training as a crucial element to the future success of our movement. As usual, it is probably extremely prudent to follow his advice.