Charter Schools-Are held accountable-but some State Charter Laws need revision


The concept of performance-based accountability, as far as schools are concerned, means that if a school is failing against accepted benchmarks, it should either have a change of leadership or close.

Far too often in this country, in the United States and elsewhere failing schools have, historically, been allowed  to stay open, unreformed to blight the life opportunities of young people, often from  the most disadvantaged  communities .Failure and chronic underperformance has been tolerated by local or municipal authorities. To understand the motives behind supply side reforms here and in the States you have to understand that those advocating  these reforms, whether its  in the form of Charters, Free schools or Academies  are not, for the most part at least, motivated by a desire to ‘privatise’ education.  Instead, its because they want to improve their state education systems, to raise school  performance ,  and  pupil outcomes  and  to  give parents choices, particularly for the most disadvantaged families, who have until now had just one choice, take it or leave it. Either a sink school or no school at all. Parents want choices and there should be a range of different types of schools  catering for a range of different demands. One size does not fit all.

One of the main arguments used against Charter schools in the States is that they are ‘ unaccountable’, in that they are seen to be  outside the direct remit of local democratic control.  But failing public schools that operate under  such ‘ control’ can, and do, remain open year after year. Think of how many of our  local authority schools have continued to operate here, while failing to meet the most basic benchmarks. And if  parents are not happy with their local state school , or the performance of  the local authority supporting these schools they have very few options.

Charter schools  generally operate within a tightly regulated environment and are accountable   through a  very direct route. Because they operate under contract, and have to provide very detailed information, and achieve set outcomes , they close if they fail to perform according to their charter.  And while opponents claim that charter schools are not being held accountable or that only “responsible” charters should remain open, the data on closed charter schools, across the states  strongly suggests that the performance-based accountability inherent in the charter school model  is, broadly  speaking, working— particularly, of course,  in states with  robust and  transparent charter laws. True, some states have more robust laws,  and governing Charters, than others, and it is work in progress for a number of others,   but the direction of travel is pretty sound.  Clearly,  though  much more work needs to be done .

The Center for Education Reform   says of the 40 states (including the District of Columbia) that allow for charter schools, only 13 have strong laws that do not require significant revisions. Their report highlights the key elements in education law that separates reform-minded states from the rest of the pack. “Too many states have allowed their charter school laws to be watered down under pressure from special interests who feel their monopoly on the education of our children is threatened,” said Jeanne Allen, president of The Center for Education Reform (CER).

The strongest criticism of Charter schools, and the Charter school movement more generally, is that while there are many excellent providers there are a significant minority that are not up to the mark, and this has tarnished the Charter brand .Not all Charter schools succeed. In fact around 12% fail. But it is now clear that  both the Charter School movement and the  States  who welcome Charter schools,   understand the crucial need for  robust ,initial vetting  procedures and due diligence. Tightening up  local charter laws  reduces significantly the risk of failure. But you can never provide  absolute  guarantees against failure.  If you over- regulate, of course, and seek to remove all risk, you threaten innovation, experimentation and progress, which charter schools seek to foment.

The Centre for Education Reform has, helpfully, provided a state-by-state analysis of closed charter schools. Previous reports haven’t provided a full enough picture,only a national overview of the data. Through this in-depth look at each state’s closed charter schools it is evident that strong state laws ensure accountability. The report found, perhaps unexpectedly, that those states with multiple and independent  authorizers provided stronger, more objective oversight to ensure the successful charter  schools remained open and those that failed to perform were closed. The research shows that accountability is lost in states with weak charter laws and poor processes to vet schools  and those that are poor in collecting t student assessment data. The state-by-state pages within the report offer a clear picture of the states whose charter schools are making the grade and those where there is room for improvement. Knowing where charter schools are achieving and the reasons why charter schools have closed is important to understanding what makes a school successful. But it is nonsense to suggest that the charter model means reduced accountability. These schools are responsible ,through a contract, to local democratic authorities, so there is both direct,  contractual accountability underpinned by  democratic accountability.


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