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The Pros, Cons, and Caveats to Automatic Closure Laws

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Las Vegas

More states are adopting default closure laws to boost the accountability of their charter sectors, but while there are benefits to these provisions there can also be disadvantages.

Default closure laws basically mandate the automatic shutdown of a state's poorest-performing charter schools. The exact performance threshold varies from state to state, but most provisions trigger closures when schools dip into the bottom 5 percent to 10 percent.

In the last few years, seven new states have adopted default closure laws in addition to Florida's and Ohio's relatively long-standing provisions, according to Amanda Fenton with the National Association for Charter School Authorizers.

Fenton, along with the Texas Charter Schools Association's executive director David Dunn and the Fordham Institute's vice president of Ohio policy and advocacy Chad Aldis, were part of a panel discussion at the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas. I asked them each to weigh in on the pros and cons of default closure laws for Charters and Choice.

Pros:

Aldis: "It's critical that bad schools close, and a mandatory closure provision makes that a reality. [...] It is important when there are financial improprieties and academic failure that the public knows about it, but then that can dominate the headlines. That's why it's important that we close schools that are really low performing both for kids and their achievement but also for public perception."

Dunn: "Closing schools is difficult for anybody. So putting parameters around those decisions is very helpful."

Fenton: "It takes the politics out of the process."

Cons:

Aldis: "You can become too reliant on an automatic closure provision [...] It's a floor; it's one that if a school falls below it that it shouldn't be operational, but there are schools that are slightly above that, that really aren't serving kids as well. So we need to make sure we don't use that as the default evaluation measure."

Fenton: "It's often harder to [enact a law] in more established sectors and sometimes it's almost more necessary because you have problems with a large number of failing schools. [...] It's much easier to do on the front end than it is on the back end."

Caveats:

Dunn: "The accountability system has to be good enough to where you're ensuring you're closing the right schools. Automatic closure is good, but there needs to be a way out when evidence can be brought that it's not the best decision for kids."

Fenton: "You do have to be very careful that you're capturing the schools that you intended to capture, making sure you're getting the alternative ed campuses classified properly and out of the equation."

Aldis: "You can't go in there with false hopes that [the law is] going to clean up a sector. It's a tool in a multifaceted approach to make sure that you have a high-performing charter sector, but it's not an elixir."

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