Seven Principles for Sound Charter School Policy
posted 2/4/2012; updated 6/27/12
The following are seven principles that should be included in charter school legislation to ensure that resources are focused where they will improve student achievement, limit increases in administrative costs, rejuvenate struggling communities, and give Mississippi children who are trapped in underperforming schools a shot at a bright future.
Permit charters only in school zones where the local schools have been underperformingfor the two (or more) most recent years. There are 211 schools that for the past two years have been rated below successful under the state’s accountability system. Creating a dual education system in good school zones will increase administrative costs and dilute the resources of good schools – and it will not improve student achievement. This would be an inefficient and wasteful use of scarce taxpayer dollars.
Grant charters only to entities that have a track record of successin working with low-performing schools. Improving achievement among students who have been in a poor school environment is extremely difficult – much more difficult than running a school in an area with historically strong achievement. The folks who propose to do that work should know what they are doing. A track record of success should be the absolute standard. Those with no experience running schools in a turn-around environment should not be granted charters.
Prohibit virtual charter schools. Virtual schools have very poor track records on student achievement and they pour their funding – state funding – into executive salaries rather than into the education of children. Read more about this here. Charter school students should have access to online courses through the Mississippi Virtual Public Schools program provided through the Mississippi Department of Education.
Require charter schools and their management organizations to be non-profit. For-profit charter schools have a poor track record. Evidence shows that for-profit charters cut corners on education standards in order to ensure higher profits.
Ensure that charter schools are subject to the same assessments and accountability as all other publicly-funded schools.
Open enrollment to all children living in the school zone, allowing parents to "opt out" if they desire. If the school cannot accommodate all of the children in the relevant zone, then the resulting "lottery" should include all students living in that zone. Parents of children in low performing schools outside of the charter school's zone should be allowed to opt in. This system of enrollment gives all children an equal opportunity and prevents “cherry picking” by charter schools. Read more about this here.
Establish a single, non-politicized authorizer of charter schools. This is a critical element that will determine whether charter schools improve student achievement or move us backward. The "authorizer" is the entity that will review and approve or reject applications, enter into charter contracts, oversee public charter schools, and decide whether to renew or revoke charter contracts. The nature of this work requires a high level of expertise in public education; an authorizing board should include appointees who are knowledgeable about the leadership and performance of school districts and who understand the complexities and implications of school policies.