Charter Schools Shortchanged
Special Report - May 25, 2010
A new Fordham Institute study shows that state governments, local school districts, and authorizing agencies may be denying charter schools the autonomy to innovate and provide an alternative school environment that they were promised when the charter school movement began. According to the study, Charter School Autonomy: A Half-broken Promise, although charter schools were intended to provide families of modest means the same school choice that wealthier families have access to in the private school alternative, state and school authorizer regulations may be causing these schools to simply be clones of the neighboring traditional public schools.
“The grand ‘bargain’ that undergirds the charter school concept is that these new schools must deliver solid academic results but that, in return, they’ll be given freedom to be different,” said Chester Finn, Jr., President of the Fordham Institute. “Sadly, this study shows that many policymakers and authorizers aren’t honoring the freedom side of the bargain.”
The study created a metric and gave states letter grades based on how much autonomy each state granted charter schools. North Carolina’s grade was equivalent to the national average of B+. Our state charter school laws were docked points because: they are somewhat prescriptive about who sits on the governing boards of the various charter schools; it is difficult for a charter school to revise its goals and mission without negotiating them with the State Board of Education; and state laws enforce some certification requirements among charter school staff.
Michael Petrilli, the Vice President for National Programs and Policy at the Fordham Institute, speculated as to why the educational establishment found it difficult to grant charter schools the autonomy necessary for their healthy function. “It’s not surprising that many school districts fail to give their charter schools adequate autonomy,” he observed. “Many of them never wanted charters in the first place.”
In North Carolina, a controversial 100-school cap placed on charter schools has long been filled, and only one slot for a new charter opened this year. “While the study did not mention the cap on charter schools, some might argue that the State Board of Education indirectly influences the make up of North Carolina’s charter schools, because in the annual competition for the one or two spots that usually open, it is able to choose those schools that most reflect its own values,” said Bill Brooks, President of the North Carolina Family Policy Council.
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