Higher Standards for Charters, Fewer Stragglers?
A recent report found that California charter schools' performance is "U-shaped—meaning there are relatively large numbers of charters clumped among the state's highest and lowest performers.
But what would it take to remove a substantial number of charters from the ranks of the stragglers?
The second annual "Portrait of the Movement," report from the California Charter Schools Association concludes that if the state were to adopt higher standards for charter renewal, it could eliminate the overrepresentation of charters from the bottom rung, and do it in seven years.
As it now stands, about 19 percent of charters in the state, or 150 out of 789, ranked within the bottom 10 percent of performance in California. Just 9 percent of non-charters fell in that category.
Charters are also overrepresented among California's top-tier schools: about 22 percent of charters rank in the top 10 percent of performance, compared with just 9 percent of non-charters. (See my previous blog item for an overview of the findings in the CCSA report, which was released last month.)
But the report also points to a strategy that the authors say would reduce the overrepresentation of charters in the bottom 10 percent—which would result in closing those that could not meet academic standards.
The CCSA recommends that charter schools be held to a number of academic criteria, based on overall performance and growth in performance over time. Those criteria also factor in the extent to which charters serve disadvantaged students, and their performance compared with schools that are similar to them demographically.
If schools that do not meet the CCSA's criteria were allowed to stay open, it would take more than two decades—until 2033—to eliminate the overrepresentation of charters in the bottom 10 percent, the organization argues.
Of course, the CCSA's criteria for judging charters are one organization's ideas. Other groups, be they advocates or critics of charters, are certain to have their own views of how charters should be evaluated.
But whatever the criteria, as it now stands, only a small number of low-performing charters are being shut down in California, the CCSA found. Of 80 reasons cited for the closure of charters over the past few years, only a small portion of them, about 5 percent, had to do with academic performance. (See chart below.) A recent report by the Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter organization, found that a higher portion of charters around the country that were closed, about 19 percent, were shut down because they weren't cutting it academically.
In California, charters were much more likely to be shut down because of lack of funding, low enrollment, or mergers or closures that were already in the works, according to the CCSA. Authorizers in California often lack "clearly actionable criteria" to deal with charters with lackluster academic records, the report says.
Without some change in the standards for how California's charters are judged, the authors say, "we would not expect the concentration of underperforming charters to diminish over time."