Category Archives: Charter Schools

Kentucky: Any Charter School Law Just Won’t Do

With Kentucky’s election of conservative Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who included school choice as a part of his campaign platform, and Democrats coming closer by the day to losing control of the state House of Representatives, discussion of the passage of a charter school law in Kentucky has picked up significantly. In fact, I have never heard more discussion of what many education policy movers, shakers, and watchers are saying is the inevitable emergence of public charter schools in Kentucky. As a longtime advocate for the passage of strong public charter school legislation in Kentucky, I greet that conversation with cautious optimism.

It is true that the support of Governor Bevin, the support of newly appointed Education and Workforce Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner, and shaky control of the state House by Democrats, all contribute to a political environment in Kentucky that could be ripe for the passage of a strong charter school law. But even with a more favorable political environment, advocates for high quality charter schools should be more insistent than ever that Kentucky’s lawmakers get charter school legislation right. We have learned from other states successes and challeng

es that the details of charter school legislation matter tremendously.It is the provisions of the statute that set the framework what charter schools in a state will eventually become. Unfortunately, I believe the inclination of some educational leaders and lawmakers in Kentucky is to try to pass a charter school law that is most palatable to the traditional public education establishment, rather than passing a law that gives charter schools in Kentucky the greatest opportunity to be successful. Rather than putting first the academic well-being of children who will be served by Kentucky’s charter schools, I fear that some lawmakers find it preferable to please district and state-level education leaders and the organizations they represent. Make no mistake about it, the interests of children and the interests of education organizations are not always one in the same.

I have gone on record previously and I do so again in saying that I will not advocate for the passage of a weak charter school law. A charter school law in Kentucky that leads to the creation of no high quality public charter schools, or worse, leads to persistently low achieving public charter schools, would do more harm to children than good. As such, Kentucky would be better served by forgoing the passage of a weak charter school law, and having no charter school law at all.

There are many elements of a strong charter school law to be decided on, but there are a few essential elements that must be a part of Kentucky’s charter school law if it is to lead to successful public charter schools. Based on research, the successes and failures of other states, and good old fashion common sense, here are a few of those essential elements:

  • Multiple Paths to Authorization. Kentucky’s charter school law must include more than one path to authorization for schools. Local school districts may serve as one of the charter authorizers, but groups applying for a charter must have at least one additional path to apply for charter authorization. Others states have experienced success with additional routes to charter authorization through independent charter school commissions, state boards of education, state commissioners or superintendents of education, city governments, and state-supported universities. All of these options should be considered in Kentucky. Providing charter schools with only one route to authorization through local school districts would leave the establishment and success of charters schools in Kentucky solely in the hands of organizations that have opposed the passage of charter school legislation.
  • Academic Accountability. Kentucky’s charter school law must hold charter schools to the highest standards of academic performance accountability. Authorizers must be held accountable for granting charters only to groups that have a comprehensive plan for the success of the school. Authorizers must be held accountable for monitoring the academic performance of charter schools in their charge, intervening when needed, and not renewing or revoking schools’ charters when necessary. Public charter schools in Kentucky cannot be allowed to fail children and families year after year, generation after generation, as some of our traditional public schools have.
  • Collective Bargaining. Kentucky’s charter schools must not be bound by collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts. The provisions of such agreements limit the human resources autonomy of administrators in some of Kentucky’s traditional public schools. Specifically, provisions of such collective bargaining greatly limit school administrators’ ability to recruit, hire, supervise, evaluate, and if need be, terminate school personnel. As the charter school concept is based on providing schools with greater autonomy in exchange for higher levels of academic accountability, binding public charter schools with those restrictions would be counterproductive. A charter school law would not and could not, however, prevent teachers at Kentucky charter schools from forming their own unions if they so chose and collectively bargaining with their schools.
  • Funding Equity. Kentucky’s public charter schools must receive funding that is equitable to traditional public schools. Public charter schools in some states have been crippled by receiving as little as half the per pupil dollar amount that would be allocated for a child attending a traditional public school. Such funding inequity would be unacceptable in a charter school law in Kentucky. Funding for public charter schools should be allocated in the same manner that funding for traditional public schools is allocated, on a per pupil basis. For every child whose parent chooses to enroll her in a public charter school, the same state, local, and federal dollars that would follow her to a district school should follow her to a public charter school.

Why High Tech High Couldn’t Operate in Kentucky

Over the last few years I’ve seen considerable interest from Kentucky educators in San Diego’s High Tech High School. For those of you who are unfamiliar with High Tech High, here is a brief description from the school’s website:

“Launched in September 2000 by an industry and educator coalition, the Gary and Jerri- Ann Jacobs High Tech High is an independent public charter school serving 584 students in grades 9-12. The school’s mission is to prepare a diverse range of students for postsecondary education, citizenship, and leadership in the high technology industry.”

In the last few years, more than a few Kentucky educators and education leaders have made their way to San Diego to tour the school, and most of them have returned to Kentucky energized about the possibilities for innovation in public education. I saw such enthusiasm on display again just last night. I was invited by my friend and colleague Dr. Justin Bathon to attend a film screening and discussion for “Most Likely to Succeed” at Lexington’s Steam Academy. The film was fantastic and I highly recommend attending or organizing a screening. The film highlighted High Tech High’s approach, students, teachers, and parents. And once again, Kentucky educators, parents, and students were inspired to transform classrooms, schools, and school districts into learning environments with similar characteristics as High Tech High. I wasn’t surprised.

What does continue to surprise me, however, is that in conversations about High Tech High and education innovation in Kentucky’s schools, there is rarely if ever mention of the fact that High Tech High is a charter school. And I’m perceptive enough to know that for educators and education leaders, it’s more than just oversight. It’s no secret that charter schooling is heresy in Kentucky’s traditional public education circles.

To be sure, there are plenty of charter schools in California and across the U.S. that can’t hold a candle to what High Tech High is doing. But it is absolutely the case that High Tech High is what it is because of California’s charter school law. Its leaders have used the flexibility and autonomy granted to it by California’s charter school law to build a school that bears little resemblance to traditional public schools in California or anywhere else. To miss that High Tech High is able to be as different as it is because it is a charter school is to miss something integral to its success.

Policy makers and education leaders in Kentucky should also realize this: If the leaders of High Tech High School wanted to come to Kentucky to replicate the school or create something similar, they couldn’t. Why? First and foremost, because Kentucky has no charter school law; so they couldn’t apply for a charter to do it. But even if it were current education leaders in a Kentucky school district who wanted to build a Kentucky version of High Tech High, they couldn’t; because without a charter school law, there is not nearly the flexibility for schools needed to pull it off in Kentucky.

Here are a few critical elements to the school’s model which Kentucky school leaders should pay closer attention to:

  • There is no tenure for teachers at High Tech High. Their teachers sign one-year contracts which may or may not be renewed at the end of the year.
  • California’s charter school law exempts High Tech High (and all California charter schools) from school district collective bargaining agreements.
  • High Tech High is authorized by the state to credential its own teachers (the first California charter school authorized to do so). Teachers hired are automatically enrolled in its free, two-year credentialing program. That kind of flexibility gives them the ability to recruit teachers who may or may not currently have a teaching credential, and who may or may not have completed formal training in education. High Tech High (and all charter schools in California) are granted further flexibility with the credentialing of teachers who teach “non-core, non-college preparatory courses.”
  • Leaders at High Tech High exercise an extraordinary amount of curricular and instructional autonomy; the likes of which current Kentucky schools do not have. In fact, a principal or superintendent in Kentucky proposing to alter the curriculum to the extent offered there would likely be laughed out of the state.
  • Leaders at High Tech High exercise tremendous budget autonomy in aligning personnel, instructional, and facilities expenditures with the the vision and mission of the school.

These are just a few of the areas where California’s charter school law has provided the legal flexibility that allows High Tech High to do what it does. There was no magic charter school dust that made the school what it is; but without the flexibility provided by the charter school law, the school wouldn’t exist. Education policy does matter. Kentucky’s policy makers and education leaders who have fallen in love with the High Tech High model would be shortsighted to not acknowledge that it does.

The Washington State Supreme Court’s Charter School Ruling: What it Means and What it Doesn’t

If you have paid much attention to school choice news from across the country, you’ve heard that the Washington State Supreme Court delivered a monumental ruling on September 4th regarding the state’s new charter school law. In a 6-3 decision, the state’s high court ruled that the state’s charter school law (Proposition I-1240) violates the Washington State Constitution. At issue was whether charter schools in Washington may be characterized as “common schools”. This is important in Washington because the state’s constitution requires that state public school funding only be used to support common schools. In its decision, the Court deemed that because the boards of Washington’s charter schools are appointed and not elected, they may not be considered common schools, and thus are ineligible to be funded by common school funding.  

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia now have charter schools in operation. The nation’s first charter school law was passed in Minnesota in 1991. The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling marked the first time a state court has found charter school funding be be in violation of a state constitution. So as you can imagine, the ruling has sent shock waves through the charter school and school choice communities, not only in Washington, but across the United States.

What Does the Future Hold for Charter Schools in Washington State?

While charter school advocates and parents of children attending the new charter schools in Washington are working around the clock to save their new schools, in the short term, the likelihood of saving them is slim. While fundraising efforts of charter school supporters in Washington and nationally have been valiant, it”s not likely to be enough. Further, if the schools are not tax-payer funded, in my estimation at least, they may no longer be considered to be public schools.

There is no appeal’s process for the court’s decision. The Washington Supreme Court has spoken and their word is final. Just as with the U.S. Supreme Court and matters relating to the U.S. Constitution, the Washington Supreme Court is as far as it goes in Washington. In short, the Washington state constitution says what the Washington Supreme Court says it says.

All is not lost, however; at least not in the long term. Charter school advocates in Washington intend to revisit the state’s law. The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling was that charter schools in the state cannot be considered common schools because their boards are appointed and not elected. Charter advocates are now gearing up for another ballot initiative (Washington’s charter school law came as the result of a ballot initiative) which would amend the law to have charter schools boards as elected rather than appointed. Such a change would likely/maybe/possibly satisfy the Washington Supreme Court. As we saw with this case, however, the Washington Education Association is an extremely formidable foe for charter school advocates. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Implications for Charter Schools Across the U.S.

Outside of Washington state, education leaders, and policymakers, and parents are asking what the implications of the Washington Supreme Court’s decision might be for charter school policy and charter schools in other states. While the Washington state ruling does not apply to charter schools or charter school laws in other states, I do expect to see teachers unions lead (with renewed vigor) campaigns in other states to challenge the constitutionality of charter schools. My guess is the vast majority of those efforts will be unsuccessful, but there is definitely the possibility of success in some places. Charter school laws are different from state to state, and state constitutions have different provisions from state to state. Further complicating the issue is the reality that state courts have different political leanings from state to state; some which lean Right and tend to be more supportive of choice policies, and some which lean Left and tend to be much less supportive of school choice policy.

In short, the Washington ruling doesn’t signal the beginning of the end for charter schools in the U.S. As I’ve said many times and in many places before, charter schooling is now a permanent fixture of the public education landscape in the U.S. The ruling does, however, highlight a potential strategy for charter school opponents in other states. The politics of school choice has always been interesting, and it promises to remain that way.

Teaching Today: Change is Afoot

DSC00329Teaching today is a much different profession than it was 30 years ago. Truthfully, it is significantly different from what it was nearly 15 years ago when I became a teacher. And the profession is likely to change even more in the next five to ten years. While some veteran teachers argue that many of the current changes to teaching are unspeakable, I am convinced that much of the reform to teaching is for the best (best for children, that is). Here are just a few areas where the teaching profession today and moving forward is significantly different from what it was just a generation ago.

  • Job Security Fewer teachers today, and most likely even future teachers going forward, will enjoy the degree of job security that teachers in previous eras enjoyed. A high degree of job security has certainly made teaching attractive for some. The reality of the profession has been that regardless of whether a teacher is effective, he can usually manage to find and keep a teaching job somewhere (often teaching our most vulnerable children). That era, however, is coming to an end. For many teachers today and most teachers tomorrow, job security will be dependent on their effectiveness. Teachers who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, through their students’ performance on standardized examinations, will find themselves struggling to keep their jobs.
  • Seniority For generations, more senior teachers have enjoyed the privileges of having first dibs on ‘choice’ teaching assignments and greater protection during reductions in force (RIF). During RIFs it has been customary for teachers last hired to be the first ones let go, while teachers with seniority have been protected; a practice commonly known as LIFO (Last In, First Out). While LIFO and other teacher seniority provisions remain a part of some teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, such provisions are becoming less common. And in cases where seniority provisions haven’t been completely negotiated away by school districts, seniority privileges are being curtailed, giving district and school level administrators greater discretion in teacher hiring and retention. It will soon be the norm in public school districts that teachers’ hiring, retention, and transfer will be based on their effectiveness, not their seniority.
  • Teacher Salary Public school teachers’ salaries have long been determined by their years of teaching experience and their level of education (bachelors, masters, doctoral degrees). In such systems, all teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree would have the same base salary, regardless of their effectiveness. But teacher pay is now being reconsidered. Policy makers, researchers, and educational leaders are questioning whether current teacher salary models makes sense in the current era of performance-based accountability. States, school districts, and charter schools are now experimenting with different approaches to teacher pay including merit pay, performance pay, performance bonuses, differentiated pay by subject area, and market-based salaries. Aspiring teachers and teachers who are relatively early in their careers should expect that in the near future their pay will be be at least in part based on their effectiveness (as measured by their students’ performance on standardized examinations).
  • Teacher Leadership While teachers have always been called on to lead in various capacities, teachers are now being asked to take on school-level leadership roles like never before. Much of the change in the expectation that teachers lead may be attributed to the increasing popularity of distributed and shared leadership models in P12 schools. Anyone going into teaching or intending to stay there should expect to take on significant formal and/or informal school leadership roles throughout their career. Such roles might include department chair, subject area lead, professional learning community (PLC) lead, peer mentor, trainer, and school or district level curriculum leadership positions.

The 30-Year Teacher is Gone and She’s Not Coming Back

If colleges of teacher education and school districts are waiting for the flood of young people who intend to spend the next thirty years of their lives as classroom teachers, they will be sorely disappointed. The reality, whether you want to face it or not, is the vast majority aspiring young professionals, even those potentially interested in pursuing careers in education, are not interested in starting a job at 22 that they will do for the rest of their working lives. That proposition just isn’t appealing to the current 18-22 year old. And to be honest, it never particularly appealed to this 35-year old. Most college-age young people are looking for their first job, their start at a career; not knowing what they might be doing in the next 5 years, much less 25 years.

So what does all this mean? Well, contrary to what some believe, it’s not the end of the world or the end of the teaching profession. It just means the field has to adapt to this era and be more flexible with how we ensure that children are receiving high quality instruction; even if new models of teaching look significantly different than current ones. And rather than trying to force young people who might be excellent teachers (even if only for the first part of their career) into the mold of the 30-year teacher, colleges of teacher education and school districts should practice embracing the diversity, energy, fresh ideas, and diverse perspectives young professionals can bring to teaching and to the children they will serve. There shouldn’t be the expectation that young people can only go into education if it’s what they intend to do forever. And to be completely honest with you, I don’t want a teaching profession where no one has any interest  in ever doing anything else, or where there are no teachers who have ever done anything other than teach. That time-warped conceptualization of the profession in part contributes to the current instructional and leadership stagnation common to some schools and school districts. Personally, I think it would fantastic to have a talented young woman begin her career as a high school English teacher then make her way into a communications position somewhere; or an energetic and ambitious young man begin his career as a middle school teacher and move into a training and development position with a Fortune 500 company. I am a big proponent of rethinking the profession in ways that make it a more appealing place for teachers to stay, but everyone doesn’t have to stay, nor should they.

With that said, schools must have veteran educators who commit to careers in teaching long-term. In fact, I argue that such veterans are critically essential elements for the success of any school or school district. Schools and charter management organization’s (CMO) would be extremely shortsighted to dismiss the critical importance of master teachers whose expertise comes only with experience. Any organizations thinking in that way would be wise to reconsider their staffing models and teacher career ladders.

But master teachers are not the norm. Even with the current school staffing model where the majority of school staff are long-term veteran educators, only a quarter to a third of teachers at most could be legitimately characterized as master teachers. Very few teachers are exceptional. Most teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. That’s no slight to teachers, it’s just the truth. But average is okay. If most of my daughter’s teachers end up being average with the occasional exceptional teacher sprinkled into her academic career I’ll be a happy camper. In fact, whether it’s instruction for my child or service at Starbucks, I should expect average; expecting the exceptional is unreasonable. Exceptional service/instruction/expertise is just a treat, not something you get all the time. We ought to think of exceptional teaching or service like we think of a truly exquisite glass of wine or a very rare Bourbon (for you Kentuckians). Most of us just don’t have that stuff every night with dinner.

Most teachers, just like most doctors, lawyers, professors, baristas, musicians, and engineers, are average. Most of us, regardless of what we do, are not exceptional. If we were all exceptional, exceptional wouldn’t be exceptional, it would be average. So the rhetoric that everyone coming into the teaching profession ought to be on a track to become a master teacher doesn’t hold water. The reality has never truly matched that rhetoric, but the rhetoric, and in some cases restrictive policies and practices which institutionalize the rhetoric, have kept some very talented young (and older) people from considering teaching. We’ve often scared away or locked out people who could make noteworthy instructional contributions for 3, 4, or 5 years.

I am incredibly grateful for the career teachers that have served children so well for so long. I have been taught by and mentored by more than a few phenomenal career educators. I owe much of the success I’ve enjoyed in my career to them. But the world is changing and the teaching profession has to change with it, whether you like it or not. I’ll talk more about those changes in my next post; but my advice to educators, educational leaders, and colleges of teacher education is to get in front of this change and help to shape where the teaching profession goes rather than allow change to drag you along kicking an screaming.

 

 

Kentucky: The Bluegrass Institute’s Written Online Charter School Debate

This past Monday, Kentucky’s Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy published the latest in its series of “Free to Learn” debates on public charter schools. If you have not yet checked it out I encourage you to do so at your earliest convenience. You can access the debate by clicking here. By facilitating and publicizing this debate, the Bluegrass Institute is providing a valuable service to Kentuckians.

One of the reasons the public charter school debate in Kentucky is so important and the reason I have participated in this series of debates is that Kentuckians have a right to understand the education policy solutions being debated in Frankfort. Kentuckians have a right to hear all sides of the public charter school policy issue, and then make up their minds about how they feel about public charter schools’ potential for Kentucky. It is my sincere belief that once Kentuckians come to understand what high quality public charter school legislation looks like and the promise it holds for addressing some of the intractable issues that our traditional public schools have struggled with for generations, citizens of the commonwealth will be willing to tell their elected officials that Kentucky should give public charter schools a try. I believe once Kentuckians understand both sides of this issue, they will be supportive of public charter school advocates’ efforts to create additional high quality public school options for parents. Not one Kentucky family should be forced into the school situations that many Kentucky families now find themselves stuck with. No child in this commonwealth should be trapped in a school that will not or cannot meet her learning needs. Kentucky families need and deserve additional high quality public school options.

All Public Schools in New Orleans will be Charters in 2014-2015 School Year

Something significant happened with the closing of the 2013-2014 school year in New Orleans. The Orleans Parish School Board closed its remaining traditional public schools, for good. That means beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, all public schools operating in the city of New Orleans will be public charter schools. In scope, the change is not as grand as it initially sounds. There were only a handful of traditional public schools remaining in operation in New Orleans. Over 90% of children in New Orleans already attended charter schools, making public schooling in New Orleans the largest urban education reform experiment in the nation. But there is something incredibly significant about the fact that there will be no traditional public schools in a major American city next year. Charter schools had their beginnings in 1991 with the passage of the nation’s first charter school law in Minnesota, and the subsequent opening of the first charter schools in 1992. But I don’t believe school reformers in Minnesota  or the father of the charter school concept, Ray Budde, imagined that 13 years after the passage of Minnesota’s law, there would be a major American city where all public schools would be charter schools. Undoubtedly, the transformation of public schooling in New Orleans was sped along by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina which destroyed the vast majority of the city’s schools. But even prior to Katrina, the New Orleans Public Schools were in complete disarray; by many accounts the city’s school system was academically, financially, and ethically bankrupt. The state had already been busy devising plans for a take-over of the city’s failing schools. In many ways, Katrina just provided the opportunity for massive reform. And that large-scale education reform begun in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and continued even to today has fundamentally transformed public schooling in New Orleans.

Problems do remain, however. Much work remains to be done in New Orleans. Many kinks in the system have yet to be worked out. But the numbers are clear; current academic performance for students attending public schools in New Orleans has far exceeded performance levels for the city’s public school students prior to Hurricane Katrina. And according to a recent report by the Times Picayune, 45% of New Orleans voters say the schools are improving. I don’t remember seeing such a large percentage of New Orleanians who believed schools were moving in the right direction.

Choice is very clearly now a central tenet of public education in New Orleans. Parents have many more public school options than they have ever had before. What must continue now is a redoubled effort to ensure that the options available to parents are in fact high quality charter school options. Charter authorizers in New Orleans must hold their schools accountable for academic performance. Performance accountability is central to the charter school concept. That means, first, maintaining the highest standards for granting charters to applicants. Second, schools that fail to perform at or above the agreed upon levels of academic performance must be improved immediately or closed down, with no exceptions. We cannot allow charter schools to become the traditional public schools of pre-Katrina New Orleans; schools that failed generations of New Orleans families with no accountability. Finally, that means giving high performing charter schools and charter networks in the city the opportunity to expand, and recruiting the highest performing charter operators from around the country to New Orleans.

Efforts to ensure that parents’ school choices are in fact high quality choices are already underway. There are many individuals and groups in the city that are engaged in that work. One of those groups has been New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO). NSNO has invested heavily in innovation in the New Orleans charter school sector and the expansion of charter school operators that have proven to be effective. That kind of work must continue with even greater intensity. New Orleans has the unique opportunity to be not just a grand experiment in urban education reform, but to become the model for large-scale urban education reform in America. The fate of New Orleans and its children are dependent on state and educational leaders’ resolve and commitment to get charter schooling right in New Orleans.

Bipartisan Support for Charter School Expansion

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is one of a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress pushing for the passage of federal legislation which would increase funding intended to encourage the growth of charter schools across the U.S. Bills have now been introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Both the House and Senate versions would consolidate the existing federal grant programs which provide funding for charter schools, and boost federal financial support for charter schools from the $250 million budgeted in fiscal year 2014, to $300 million for fiscal year 2015.  Both bills are intended to “increase the number of quality charter schools available” (S.2304), While the bills are very similar, there is a relatively significant difference. With the Senate bill, the Expanding Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (S.2304), more dollars would be reserved for the replication of successful charter schools as opposed to starting brand new schools.

The House bill, the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10), passed out of the House Committee on Education and Workforce with bipartisan support in a 36-3 vote, and it passed with bipartisan support in the full House with a 360-45 vote. The Senate bill is currently under consideration with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. It too has relatively strong bipartisan support and a good chance of passing favorably out of the committee and passing in the full Senate.

Bipartisan sponsorship and support for these bills in both the House and Senate is evidence that charter school policy is no longer the politically divisive education reform issue that it has been in the past-at least not at the national level. This is not to suggest that lawmakers’ political affiliations never factors into policy making decision about charter schools, but it is no longer the case that one can assume a Democrat lawmaker will be unsupportive of efforts to support charter school expansion and strengthen charter schools. While the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are not likely to become fast friends of charter school advocates, I do believe even those groups are having to come to terms with the fact the charter schools will be a growing part of the public education landscape in the U.S. And as they come to terms with the reality that charter schools are going to be around, it is my hope that charter school policy conversations will turn to ensuring that charter schools have adequate resources and the autonomy they need to be truly innovative, and ensuring that across states, charter schools are consistently held to the high performance accountability standards that are central to the charter school concept.


Charter Non-Renewal in North Carolina: This is How the System is Supposed to Work

The North Carolina State Board of Education voted unanimously last week to not renew the charters for two schools based on non-performance. The North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board recommended last month that neither charter should be renewed.

The purpose of this post is not to debate the merits of the decisions of the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board or the North Carolina State Board of Education. Instead, my purpose here is to point out that this is how charter school accountability is supposed to work. When charter schools don’t perform up to the academic standards agreed to in their charters, after going through due-process, charters are  supposed to be revoked or not renewed. That process is fundamental to the charter school movement. Revoking the charters of schools that do not perform is fundamental to the success of the charter school movement.

Those of us who are advocates for high quality charter schools do not fight for the passage of charter school legislation to set up schools that do not serve children well. Sure, what it means to serve children well continues to be and should be debated. That conversation is an important one, not just for charter schools but for public education writ large. But performance contracts for charter schools should be very clear about how schools agree to be held accountable for academic performance. Failure to shut down charter schools that do not live up to the standards they have agreed to does a disservice to children and damages the credibility of the charter school movement.

So again, I do not have enough details to make a judgement about these particular schools; and it is my understanding that one of the schools has the opportunity to appeal the decision within the next 60 days, which I believe the board should do if it has in fact met the standards it agreed to and it has been treated unfairly in this process. The right to appeal is a part of the system. But I applaud North Carolina for staying true to the charter school accountability system that is in place and holding charter schools accountable for academic performance. Accountability for academic performance is what makes charter schools different. That means sometimes making difficult decisions about charter revocation and non-renewal, but so be it. Children’s lives are at stake.

Mississippi’s New Charter School Law

In April 2013, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into
law the Mississippi Charter Schools Act of 2013, which makes relatively
significant changes to the state’s charter school law. Mississippi’s charter
school law up to now has been rated by charter school advocates, including the
Center for Education Reform (CER), as the weakest charter school law in the
nation; ranking last of all of 42 state charter school laws currently on the
books. Mississippi’s law has ranked so low largely because it is so restrictive
of charter schools. For example, the state’s law provided only for conversion
charter schools; start-up charter schools were not permitted under the law.
Only the most challenged traditional public schools in the state could potentially
qualify for charter school conversion; only a total of 12 charter schools could
be established; and even though the law was passed in 2010, no charter schools
could be established before the 2012-13 academic year. As such, even with the
law on the books, Mississippi currently has no charter schools in operation. For
anyone interested in additional specific details on the provisions of the state’s
old charter school law, I provide additional details on the law in a section below
(The Old Law: Mississippi Charter Conversion Act of 2010).

Here are a few noteworthy elements of Mississippi’s new charter
school law:

  • The law creates a Charter School Authorizer Board
    which has “exclusive chartering jurisdiction in the State of Mississippi,” and may
    approve up to 15 charter schools per fiscal year. The new board will have the responsibilities
    of reviewing applications, approving or rejecting applications, entering into
    charter contracts with approved applicants for charter schools, overseeing
    charter schools, and making charter renewal and/or revocation decisions. The
    board is to consist of seven members, with three members appointed by the Governor,
    three members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, and one member appointed by
    the State Superintendent of Public Education.
  • Both conversion and start-up charter schools
    may be authorized. The law prohibits, however, the conversion of private
    schools into charter schools.
  • For the conversion of traditional public schools to
    charter schools
    , applicants must “demonstrate support for the proposed
    charter school conversion by a petition signed by a majority of teachers or a
    majority of parents of students in the existing noncharter public schools, or by a majority vote of the local
    board, or in the case of schools in
    districts under state conservatorship, by the State Board of Education.”
  • “In any school district designated as an A, B,
    or C school district by the State Board of Education under the accreditation
    rating system, the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board may authorize
    charter schools only if a majority of the members of the local school board
    votes at a public meeting to endorse the application or to initiate the
    application on its own initiative.”
  • Approved charter school schools may delay its
    opening for one year for the purposes of planning and preparation. The school
    may petition the authorizer for a period of longer than one year for planning
    and preparation before opening.
  • Charter schools must be open to any student
    living within the boundaries of the school district within which the charter
    school is located. School districts may not require any student to attend a
    charter school.
  • The “underserved student” enrollment of a
    charter school must be reflective of the students attending the school district
    in which the charter school is located, but must be at least 80% of the total student
    enrollment.
  • ·        
    At least
    25% of a charter school’s initial teaching force must meet all state certification requirements, but all teachers at a charter school are required to meet state
    certification requirements by the school’s third year of operation. School administrators are not required to meet state licensing requirements.

  • Charter school employees are not subject to state salary requirements.
  • Charter school employees are not eligible for participation in the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System.
  • The new law goes into effect July
    1, 2013
    . The Charter School Authorizer Board is expected to issue a
    call for charter school applications by December 1, 2013.

 

The Old Law: Mississippi
Charter Conversion Act of 2010

As of January 2013, Mississippi had no charter school in
operation. The Center for Education Reform (CER) graded Mississippi’s law as an
F in 2012, awarding it a total 1 out of 55 points. Of note, the Mississippi
state legislature passed new charter school legislation in April 2013. This
discussion, however, is of Mississippi’s charter school law as of January 2013.
The law was passed initially in 2010 as the Charter Conversion Act of 2010. It
defined a conversion charter school as “a public school that has converted to
operating under the terms of a contract entered into between the local
management board of a conversion charter school and the State Board of
Education.” Start-up charter schools may not be authorized under this law.The
State Board could approve up to 12 conversion charter schools from 2010 until
2016, and no more than three petitions for charters in each of the state’s four
congressional districts could be approved. No conversion charter schools were
to begin operations before July 2013.

The Mississippi State Board of Education was authorized to
issue contracts for conversion charter schools for a minimum three-year term,
and could renew conversion charter school contracts for up to three years
provided that “all parties to the original contract” approve renewal with a
majority vote of parents or guardians of students enrolled in the school.
However, after three years as a conversion charter school, parents or guardians
of students enrolled in the school could request that conversion charter school
status be removed from the school by submitting a petition to the State Board
of Education with the support of over 50% of the school’s parents or guardians.

Mississippi’s conversion charter schools were to function as
traditional public schools in most ways. They were to continue receiving
funding and are provided with transportation services in the same manner that
these were provided before receiving conversion charter status. In addition to
state and local funding, the law permits conversion charter schools to receive
additional funds from other public or private sources. In fact, the law goes to
great lengths to make it quite clear that conversion charter schools may
receive funds from the federal Race to the Top program. The following excerpt from
the law strongly suggests that the passage from the law was in large part an effort to win federal Race to the Top
Funds:

It is the intent of the Legislature
that in accordance with the conditions of federal funding under the federal
“Race to the Top” program, public schools converted to conversion charter
school status in Mississippi are authorized to operate conversion charter and
autonomous public school programs that are high-performing. It is further the intent
of the Legislature that public schools converted to conversion charter schools
receive equitable state and federal funding compared to traditional public
schools, as required by the federal “Race to the Top” program, and that the
state shall not impose any school facility-related requirements on conversion
charter schools which are more restrictive than those applied to traditional
public schools.

Children in the attendance zone of a conversion charter
school prior to the conversion would continue to attend the conversion
charter school after the conversion. The schools were to be open to transfer
students from other schools only if openings were available.