CHARTER SCHOOLS BRAND-RAISING THE GAME


CHARTER SCHOOLS ACCOUNTABILITY

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There has been much publicity recently about Charter schools in the States as they have inspired some of the Tories ideas about free schools. One of the problems of Charter schools in the States is that while most outperform local board schools a significant minority don’t, which damages the brand.

A Rand Corporation study led by a Michigan University academic released last year   provided evidence that charter schools might be moving in the right direction in terms of high school graduation and college attendance, but suggested that  test scores and other outcomes might not be as promising. It said that policymakers need to think more broadly about outcomes when evaluating how to proceed with charter schools. In short States have got to be much more careful in their selection and monitoring of Charter schools. Some are very good indeed, others not so.

A Stanford University study found that New York Charter schools are thought, for instance, to be better performers overall than those in Washington DC.  KIPP charter schools seem to have stolen a reputational lead over most other chains Charter school leaders are acutely sensitive about such observations.

In California recently they have called on the state’s charter school movement to ensure greater accountability by introducing renewal standards that will result in the annual closure of several low-performing charter schools. There are now close to 700 charter schools in California, of which 163 are in Los Angeles County.

Currently, charter schools in California are held accountable to the minimum academic performance renewal standards contained within Assembly Bill (AB) 1137, which passed into law in 2003. But this has proven largely unworkable in terms of closing schools that consistently underperform. As part of this accountability plan, charter leaders are calling for the implementation of a Similar Students Measure (SSM) which would significantly raise renewal standards, while taking into account the demographic backgrounds of the students served by charter schools. Just as importantly, the plan calls for improved enforcement mechanisms which would eliminate deficiencies in the current law that make it difficult to shut down underperforming schools.

It is clear that the Charter schools movement is moving to protect the brand, against the backdrop of President Obamas efforts to persuade state legislatures to lift the caps on Charter schools. The Charter agreements themselves vary between states and there are moves to encourage all states to improve their contracting arrangements and to be more assiduous and consistent in their selection and evaluation procedures when entering into agreements with providers.

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