Fair Trade: Five Deals to Expand and Improve Charter Schooling

Andrew J. Rotherham
Education Sector
January 2008

The debates over charter schools that play out across blogs and opinion pages are heated, but in state legislative chambers cooler heads eventually have to prevail to reach compromises on charter-school legislation. This policy brief by Education Sector's Andy Rotherham recommends some ways to reach those compromises. Rotherham's first suggestion is "smart charter school caps" (more here), which "allow schools that have met a performance threshold to replicate as fast as they are able to." Structuring policy in this way allays the fear that poorly-performing schools run by wackos, yahoos, felons, and ex-Stasi will proliferate. Another recommendation: High-performing charters looking for permanent homes should lend their academic credibility to struggling public schools in exchange for building space. (Ohio, for example, has a law that allows traditional public schools who make room for charters to include the charter's performance figures in their own accountability reports.) Other ideas include providing transition aid for traditional public schools that lose students to charters, implementing a system of weighted student funding, and developing "thin" teacher contracts for charter schools, much like those used in the Green Dot system in Los Angeles (compare the 53 pages in Green Dot's contract with the 348 in LAUSD's). Rotherham points out, too, the types of risks inherent in any political compromise. Regarding the "test scores for space" recommendation, for instance, what happens if the high-achieving charter school flubs the exams one year? Is it out on the street again? Also, how willing are we to let troubled public schools temper their accountability numbers with those from a high-performing charter school? Not all this is new, but Rotherham still does a good job highlighting questions that advocates and lawmakers will have to answer. Go here to download a copy of the report, and send it to your public servant right away.

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