One of our recent discussions of charter schools led to this interesting e-mail from Andrew Broy, former DOE head of charter schools and now president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. (Has anyone noticed this exodus of smart education leaders to other states?) Broy was responding to a blog by UGA professor Peter Smagorinsky.
Here is what Broy said:
I spent some time yesterday catching up on your blog and saw the article by the professor suggesting that all schools become charter schools or, more to the point, that all charter schools be granted the flexibility charter schools are able to utilize (if the waiver granted by the school’s authorizer permits it).
I am afraid that this leaves behind a critical aspect of chartering. Flexibility is not granted merely for the sake of allowing more governing board/council discretion at the school level. After all, that is what the failed site-based management initiatives were about 20 years ago and the reason they largely failed was because the alleged flexibility was not coupled with a demand for real results.
The charter concept is flexibility in exchange for real accountability, with accountability in terms of student achievement growth being the most important component of the bargain. When implemented properly, a charter contract is the only mechanism in public education that creates a scenario in which continuing years of underperformance will result in closure of the school. Multiple school improvement plans over the years have focused on other remedies.
For example, NCLB requires the provision of school choice and supplemental education services after two and three consecutive years of not making AYP, respectively. Neither approach demands performance. By contrast, a charter school must meet rigorous performance goals set forth in the charter as a condition of retaining the privilege of teaching children. While the charter model is not always faithfully implemented (there are some charters that grant almost no flexibility) and there are some authorizers who shy away from making the correct (but difficult) decision to close a chronically underperforming school, the model itself is strong (and unique).
In fact, I do not think it is a coincidence that the highest performing open enrollment schools in our country that serving students in poverty are charter schools.
As we have discussed before, I am agnostic on school form. I do not particularly care whether we have more magnet schools, more career academies, more traditional public schools, or more charter schools. I am just concerned about creating great public schools that serve students well, particularly serving students who are not served well in their existing schools. It just so happens that the charter model is where this is happening in the most concentrated form.
Ultimately, I think we need a collective sense of urgency in implementing these sorts of models – the student in third grade today who is unable to grasp the fundamentals of literacy is not waiting for the next bold reform. She simply needs the skills necessary to progress to higher level learning.