Positive Charter School Closings
Special Report - December 22, 2011
A landmark report from The Center for Education Reform this month analyzes charter school closures across the nation since 1992 and what those closings indicate about the quality of charter schools. The report, “The State of Charter Schools: What We Knowand What We Do NotAbout Performance and Accountability” by Alison Consoletti, vice president of research for The Center for Education Reform (CER), was released December 21. It “reveals not only that charters are successful, but also that accountability for results is alive and well in a way that is unique to these public schools.”
Responding to accusations that the closure rates of charter schools indicate a poor educational experience for students, Consoletti argues that, “Charter schools deliver on student achievement [and] a substantial percentage of charter schools are closed from year to year for reasons that any school should be closed.”In 2011-2012, nearly 2 million students in the United States and 37,407 North Carolina students were enrolled in a charter school. During the 2009-10 school year, “an estimated 365,000 parents were on charter school waiting lists” nationwide. Since 1992, the closure rate among charter schools has hovered around 15 percent. The report notes that this 15 percent closure rate is “lower than the small business failure rate and dramatically higher than the percentage of conventional or traditional public schools ever closed.” Charter school “closures are concentrated in the first five years of a charter school’s existencejust long enough to know whether a school is failing to meet its goals with enough time for observation, review, corrections and oversight from any authorizing body,” according to the report. Charter school success depends on “an extensive array of factors,” including “the way a law is written, … which regulations are or are not required, … the structure of the authorizing, … the financing, … [and] the actual integrity of the data reported by local and state institutions.” The five primary reasons that charter schools close, according to the report, are:
- Financial - Nearly 42 percent of charter schools close due to financial deficiencies that are typically “driven by low student enrollment or inequitable funding.” The report notes that “[n]ationwide, charter schools are funded at only 68 percent of their conventional school counterparts.”
- Mismanagement - Nearly one-quarter of charter school closures are the result of poor management “related to administrator or sponsor misbehavior.” Management misbehavior includes “deliberately misspend[ing], misrepresent[ing], or refus[ing] to hold the charter school accountable to its contract. States that restrict charter authorization to school districts or who fail to implement proper oversight represent a disproportionate number of the charter school closures as a result of mismanagement.”
- Academic Performance - Nearly one-fifth of all charter school closures are the result of poor academic performance among the schools’ students. While acknowledging, “academic performance is the most important factor in whether a charter school succeeds or fails,” the report noted that “closing a school for academic reasonswhile importantis less likely because the operational deficiencies [in finances and management] show up first.” Additionally, the report points out the lack of standard baselines, goals, and understanding related to academic performance, as demonstrated by “wide variations in [academic] standards from state to state, as well as the unevenly applied Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) labels that are derived from state test scores, all which have varying cut-off scores and proficiency goals.”
- Facilities - Less than five percent of charter school closures result from facilities obstacles. Even so, the report explains that “[b]ecause they have to find their own buildings and often are at the mercy of landlords, many charter schools lose their facility or have difficulty finding one at all,” according to the report.
- District Obstacles Just over six percent of charter school closures are directly related to intentional problems and obstacles the charter school encounters as a result of local school board or state hostility towards the charter school. Such hostility “includes burdening charters with unnecessary paperwork, alleging irregularities in reporting, lodging consistent challenges to the charter’s authority, and more.”
The report found that more successful and greater numbers of charter schools are found in states with multiple authorizers, and states with independent authorizers. Additionally, the report lauds states with strong charter laws and authorizers as giving “schools a better chance at success because they hold them accountable and can offer them services and management tools to succeed. They require annual reports on finance, achievement and operations, but they don’t overburden schools with reporting so they can concentrate on educating children.” Interestingly, “nearly 80 percent of the nation’s 5,400 charter schools” operate in “states with multiple authorizers.”
According to the report, the quality debate over charter schools must focus “on authorizers which have often not set high enough barriers to entry or established consistent expectations. School boards are the worst culprits in the lower bar setno surprise given their opposition to charter laws or approving charters. The incongruous nature of their traditional role as regulator of a district full of identical public schools makes it difficult for them to fairly and adequately assess new and promising educational delivery models and structures.” Knowing that “[p]erformance-based accountability is the cornerstone of charter schools,” the report encourages public school districts to “take a page out of the charter school playbook and begin to hold all conventional schools accountable for their successes and failures. This is the only way to improve public educationhaving viable educational options for parents that are held accountable for their results.”
This summer, the North Carolina General Assembly considered several changes to North Carolina charter school law, including changes to authorization, governance, and funding of the schools. Ultimately, SB 8No Cap on Number of Charter Schools, was the only bill passed to amend the charter school law. SB 8 removed the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in North Carolina that had been in place since charter schools were introduced to the state in 1996 and made changes to the accountability measures for under-performing charters.
In related news, on December 14, the NC Public Charter School Advisory Council selected 11 out of 27 applicants for continued consideration to take advantage of a new “fast track” process to open a new charter school for the 2012-2013 school year. Traditionally, charter applicants have been required to go through a one-year planning phase before being allowed to open.
SBOE Approves Charter Fast Track - September 2, 2011
Charter School Council Formed - August 5, 2011
Charter Bill Heads to Conference - April 15, 2011
Charter School Checkmate - FNC - July 2010
Charter Schools Shortchanged - May 25, 2010
Charter Schools Get the Rap - February 5, 2010
Group Says Lift Charter School Cap - January 22, 2010
Charter School Myths Debunked - January 7, 2010
Charter Schools Close Achievement Gap - October 5, 2009
Charter Schools Have Financial Benefits - November 7, 2008
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