Charter schools willing to be held accountable to higher standards

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When charter school operators accept the challenge of opening a new school, they do so knowing that every five years they must demonstrate high levels of student progress in order to keep their doors open. The renewal process – the process that all charter schools go through every five years, during which they are required to show their authorizing entity how they have met the performance benchmarks outlined in their charter documents – is a hallmark of the charter school movement. It shows how charter schools embrace the fundamental charter school proposition: higher levels of accountability than are found in other public schools in exchange for higher levels of autonomy and flexibility.

The charter school movement in California is experiencing a period of positive momentum, with unprecedented numbers of new schools opening, promising trends in overall academic performance, and an impressive increase in the awareness of and support for charters from the general public. However, at the same time, it is inarguable that there is a flaw in California’s charter school law that must be addressed. That flaw is that minimum academic performance expectations for charter schools in renewal have been too low; renewal processes have been too permissive, resulting in persistently underperforming schools being inappropriately renewed.

That is unacceptable.

That’s why the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) released the Portrait of the Movement report in February, detailing charter school performance across the state. The results showed that charters are overrepresented at both ends of the performance spectrum, and gave us a clear picture of what we’re doing right, and where we can improve.  In addition, the report paved the path toward calling for increased accountability for those charters that are not delivering on the promise of a high-quality education for the students they serve.

CCSA is deeply committed to an academic accountability system for charter schools that ensures the closure of poor-performing charter schools. We introduced legislation to that end last year, and that is why this year we are sponsoring SB 645, carried by Sen. Jose Simitian, which would increase the minimum academic performance criteria for charter schools in renewal and create a tighter renewal process ensuring that more persistently underperforming charter schools are held accountable.

Specifically, SB 645 would establish higher academic performance requirements for charter schools in renewal by requiring that charter schools meet one of the following minimum benchmarks:

  • A minimum API raw score of 700
  • A minimum of at least 30 points cumulative growth over the last three API cycles
  • A minimum of at least 6 on the Similar Students Measure for the last reporting cycle or for two of the last three reporting cycles

Schools missing these criteria would not be eligible for renewal unless they first received an eligibility determination from the State Board of Education.

While our proposal continues to provide safe harbor for the schools in the state’s Alternative School Assessment Model (ASAM), our bill eliminates the provision allowing a charter school to remain open if its authorizer determines that the school is performing at least as well as area schools with similar student demographics. We recommend eliminating this provision because we have observed too many occasions when this standard has been implemented inconsistently or inaccurately, resulting in minimum academic requirements that are sometimes so low as to be virtually nonexistent.

We understand that one of the toughest, most emotionally charged decisions a school board faces is closing a school, whether it is a traditional or charter public school. SB 645 seeks to eliminate some of the most challenging dynamics at play when a school board considers the renewal of a failing charter school by creating a default assumption of non-renewal for any charter school that fails to meet any of the success measurements.

California currently has 912 charter schools serving more than 365,000 students. The demand for more quality schools is growing each year, as parents and communities call for schools that give students the foundation they need to succeed in the future. Many of California’s charter schools are the envy of the nation, with strong academic programs that outperform traditional public schools. In addition, charter schools have the flexibility and autonomy to best meet the needs of their students through innovation, focused curricula, and/or longer school days and years.

But, as our own report demonstrates, there are some charter schools that are underperforming, and in order to achieve true education reform and do what is best for students, we must make sure that the charter school movement adheres to the highest standards of quality. This is why we will remain diligent to ensure appropriate accountability systems are in place for persistently low-achieving charter schools. In this way, the charter school movement will continue to demonstrate how high levels of accountability should be more fully embraced by all aspects of our public education system.

Jed Wallace serves as the President and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, a membership organization supporting the state’s 912 charter schools. He began his career in public education as a teacher at Hooper Avenue Elementary School, a 2,000-student school in South-Central Los Angeles, and later worked in the Office of the Superintendent at San Diego City Schools where, among other duties, he was responsible for the oversight of the district’s 22 charter schools. Jed also served as the Chief Operating Officer of High Tech High during a period when High Tech High grew from one school serving 400 students into eight schools serving more than 3,000 students. He was named president and CEO of the CCSA in 2009.

3 Comments

  1. I’m a big supporter of accountability for charter schools, but I don’t support rigid required levels of achievement based on test scores for ANY schools. That’s just detrimental to education overall. It begs for “Erase to the Top”-style cheating, due to Campbell’s Law:

    “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
     
    My view is that elected school boards should be able to hold charter schools accountable based on their own judgment and standards. (Also, newspaper editorial boards should butt out entirely unless they want to actually take over overseeing charter schools.) But the rigid test score requirements are a counterproductive mistake and shouldn’t be encouraged anywhere in education.

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  2. It’s reassuring to hear Mr. Wallace call for higher standards for charter re-authorization, but the CCSA needs to back up such sentiment with a more reasoned approach to Prop. 39, which the CCSA uses to aggressively pursue “unused” public school space.  Case in point is Ivy Academia Charter in Los Angeles, whose former CEO’s are facing jail time for embezzlement, and whose current CEO’s actively seek to avoid special ed. students.  Under fear of Prop. 39 lawsuits backed by CCSA, LA Unified is endorsing giveaways of precious space to Ivy from local elementary and secondary schools.  These public schools, in addition to having no compunction about accepting special ed. students, have significant minority, low-income and low scoring enrollment, which Ivy does not.  It would give credence to Mr. Wallace’s words to see a recognition of such realities in the CCSA’s push to implement Prop. 39.

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  3. That’s great. There are several pieces of legislation in Sacramento right now calling for increased charter school accountability. I expect CCSA to be in full support of that legislation.

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