Should federal dollars be used to try to turn around failing charters?

Charter schools are different from traditional district schools in that they are free of many regulations and operating constraints, but in return for their freedoms they are held accountable for their results. Those charter schools that fail to deliver results over time are closed, the theory holds. Yet, strict charter accountability in the form of closure collides with the efforts of states like Ohio to use federal school improvement dollars to turn around troubled charter schools.

President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Duncan are pushing the school turnaround concept hard through the Race to the Top competition and School Improvement Grants. Andy has written extensively about the many challenges that face turnaround efforts, and has mustered much evidence against the cause. [quote]

Despite Andy's strong case against all turnarounds, I have argued that there are times when the turnaround strategy may have merit for school districts. Of course, we should take on turnarounds with a healthy dose of skepticism and with the understanding that most will fail. But, in cities like Fordham's hometown of Dayton, half of the community's schools perennially receive an F or D on the state's academic report card.

Why would we want to place an ironclad ???????no??????? on a reform-minded superintendent who might seek a portfolio of reforms, including the strategic use of turnarounds? Dayton has been in a perpetual state of reform for 15 years, including launching one of the largest charter sectors in the country, and still most children attend a poorly rated school. Limiting reform efforts here makes no sense.

Still, some question whether it is good public policy to use federal school improvement dollars to try to turn around troubled charters, especially as this contradicts the notion that charters are supposed to be closed for perpetually poor performance. About half of Ohio's 55 ???????persistently lowest achieving schools??????? (Tier 1 School Improvement Grant schools) are charters. As charters in Ohio are independent Local Education Agencies (LEAs) they are eligible for ???????federal school improvement dollars.??????? They can use these dollars to try to turn themselves around and many will surely do so.

So, I have a question for my fellow charter school supporters and reformers, should federal dollars be used to try to turn around failing charters, or should these schools simply be closed?

--Terry Ryan

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