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Beyond Tough Rhetoric on Charter Closures

Great new report out today from the Progressive Policy Institute on the need for charter authorizers to be more assertive in closing down low-performing schools, the practical and political challenges to doing so, and what to do about it. Over the past few years there's been a recognition that, while the charter movement originally promised increased accountability through the ability to shutter low-performing charter schools, too many low-performing charters have been allowed to remain in operation, while students languish. Charter leaders, funders, policymakers and the media have responded to this realization with calls for charter authorizers to get tougher about closing low-performing schools.

But what I like about this new PPI report is the recognition that the obstacles to charter closure reach much deeper than a lack of "toughness" among authorizers.Specifically, author David Osborne flags a number of more concrete obstacles to school closure, including a lack of robust data about charter performance, limited authorizer capacity and resources, lack of strong performance contracts and clear standards for closure or non-renewal, too-long charter terms, weaknesses in state laws, and legal challenges in sustaining school closures where courts have limited understanding of the charter concept. The bad news is that this means there is a lot of work to do to improve authorizers' ability to close low-performing schools. The good news is that there are some very concrete things that authorizers and policymakers can do to eliminate some of these challenges and obstacles. To be sure, addressing these issues won't make charter closures easy--authorizers still need political will to close schools in the face of opposition from parents, stakeholders, and often powerful community or elected leaders. But it is easier when authorizers have capacity, clear standards and abundant empirical data to make the case for closure. Really tough questions--like whether or not to close schools when students have few or no better alternatives available--aren't going to go away overnight. But closing low-performing charter schools should be part of a cycle--along with growing the supply of high-performers and leveraging accountability and targeted supports to boost the performance of mediocre schools--that ultimately raises the performance of the entire portfolio and creates more, better opportunities for kids.

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