This morning, the Center for Education Reform released its 17th edition of its National Charter School Law Ranking & Scorecard. As in 2015, the last time this report came out, Washington, D.C. is ranked at the top of the list primarily because of the independence and leadership of the DC Public Charter School Board. But in many ways the document is a sobering analysis of the health of our movement across the country. From the introduction by Jeanne Allen, CER’s founder and CEO:
“We are now well into the third decade since Minnesota passed the first state charter statute. The number of charter schools has continued to increase each year at a steady but relatively slow pace. But this past year, that growth abruptly came to a near halt. Overall, the nation’s nearly 7,000 charter schools still serve a fairly small percentage of the total number of students receiving public education, roughly six percent. Some states and cities have far more market share and point the way to what healthy expansive choice does for the whole of public education.”
Ms. Allen’s words are critically important for those of us who defend, and desperately want to see expanded, the ability of parents to chooose the best educational setting for their children. Therefore, allow me to continue with her observations:
“CER noted in its 2015 report that while ‘…demand [for charter schools] continues to outstrip supply…’ there has been a ‘lack of progress made in state houses across the country over the past few years to improve the policy environment for charter schools’ and, more specifically, ‘… it is abundantly clear that little to no progress has been made over the past year…’
In recent years, there has been significant attention—especially, but not exclusively, among authorizers—on a perceived need to focus on charter ‘quality over quantity.’ The strategies discussed have included more stringent approval processes as well as ‘culling the herd’ during charter renewal to let only those schools deemed strong performers to continue.
This year, the movement crept to a near halt, a result of these very ill-conceived state policies and what is being termed ‘regulatory reload.’ There is widespread evidence of creeping regulatory intrusion in decisions regarding academic programming, curriculum, discipline and teacher qualifications. The problem, it appears, is policymakers who are given numerous recommendations and no longer know the difference between policies that advance the cause of effective charter schools and those that strangle them.”
D.C. is called out as particularly vulnerable to this trend of regulatory reload. Again, from Ms. Allen:
“While still number one in our rankings, DC risks losing ground if it continues on a slow but slippery slope of allowing the city and its agencies to micromanage the authorizer’s processes. It’s also unique in that it has one authorizer that was created when the city did not have a ‘state’ board of education, and when the city was under the control of an independent board itself from the city council. That legacy of independence is now threatened by the restoration of city structures that have begun to assert various controls over chartering in the city. The law provides for the establishment of new entities for authorizing, such as universities. Pursuing additional authorizers would allow the existing DC Public Charter Board to stay on its feet, and create alternative innovations for opening and managing new schools.”
Reading this document brings me back to the debate over the future of Latin American Youth Center Career Academy PCS which this week the DC PCSB voted to begin revocation proceedings against. It appears that the board is trying to fit this school, which serves those that others have abandoned, into some preconceived standardized model. Here’s one more paragraph from the CER CEO’s study preface that makes it appear that she was at Monday night’s meeting in which the process was initiated to close the school:
“Charter regulation, approval and oversight should be transparent, predictable, and avoid micro-management of academics, discipline and staff hiring and termination. Regulation should be flexible enough to encourage charter schools designed to meet the needs of special populations by allowing them to meet requirements that are reasonable and appropriate for their students. And yet, it is precisely that regulation that is discouraging new charter school growth. With barely 6 percent of all public school students in charter schools nationwide, two percent growth over one year is totally unacceptable and an indication that something is amiss. Risk-averse, highly bureaucratic state and local actors are causing the stagnation. It comes not just from opponents, but from heavy-handed friends. Their heavy reliance on government to solve perceived issues of quality will bring charter schools to a screeching halt unless the policies they espouse reverse course.”
I hope those over at the DC PCSB are listening.