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November 02, 2009
Are we doing enough to ensure that the charter schools we
open today won’t be the ones we’ll be closing later? Some may argue, as Andy
Rotherham did in the fall, that we need to embrace risk-taking and consider
that establishing great charter schools means occasionally creating bad ones. Taking
the safe route too often welcomes mediocrity. But that might make greater sense
if charter school authorizers were adopting best practices in the first place.
Many are not, as a report
released today by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers makes evident.
And widely varying practices means that too many authorizers aren’t making the
right decisions to keep good schools open and bad schools closed, NACSA
president and CEO Greg Richmond said.
Just 6.2 percent of the nation’s charter schools up for
renewal in 2010-11 were closed, down from 8.8 percent the year before and 12.6
percent in 2008-09, according to the report. While the association attributes
the decline to any number of factors – stronger policies regulating charter
oversight, better quality among charters, or even political pressure to keep
bad schools open – it believes that trend is heading in the wrong direction.
“Our experience suggests that authorizing agencies should be closing more,
rather than fewer, poor-performing schools,” Richmond said in a written
Authorizers with a larger portfolio of schools are more
likely to implement what the association identifies as “essential practices,”
but size doesn’t always matter. Nonprofits represent the smallest percentage of
those that oversee charter schools, but they employed the highest average
number of essential practices, according to the survey. And, incidentally, they
closed more schools on average than other types of authorizers, including school districts, colleges and universities, or independent chartering
The association is careful not to identify a “best” application
or closure rate, but our expectations for charter schools have heightened in
the last few years as more and more networks like KIPP enter the market.
Scrutiny of a charter school application on the front end does not require
avoiding all risks, but it does demand that we’re asking the right questions
before we take the plunge. Rotherham is right to say that the price of
innovation and progress is the creation of some lemons. But until we adopt the
right benchmarks at the beginning, we should be less patient about living with them.