If you believe the heated rhetoric in recent weeks over court rulings on teacher tenure and the unionization efforts at public charter schools, the teachers unions and charter school organizations are supposed to be enemies.
But in reality, when it comes to the issue of what charter schools should and should not do, we are in agreement.
We agree that public charter schools should serve all students, offer a high-quality education, and be held accountable when they misuse public funding. We also agree that charter schools that fail their students and communities should not stay open.
My organization, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), works to ensure that the agencies, called authorizers, that approve and oversee charter schools, are sharply focused on the values of quality service and strong accountability.
The 1,050 charter authorizers in 44 states—the vast majority of which are school districts, school boards, or other locally elected officials—owe that to the public they serve, along with open access.
When it comes to educating all students, charter schools are not allowed to cherry-pick who they will and won’t educate. They are free public schools that are open to all students. They often function like neighborhood schools, enrolling students from the community in which they are located. Nationally, charter schools serve a higher percentage of low-income students, students of color, and English-language learners than traditional public schools.
Not all public charter schools serve the same percentage of students with special needs as their district counterparts, however. That’s why NACSA is working to help shape better policies to ensure charter schools serve special education students well. We’re also working to support fair disciplinary policies in charter schools, with the aim of addressing root behavioral issues while keeping students in the classroom where they can learn.
Charter schools are funded by tax dollars from the public. They are responsible and accountable to that public to ensure their dollars are managed well and spent on ensuring each student receives a quality education. As with all public agencies, when charter schools misuse funds, they must be held accountable and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Similar oversight and regular audits should be the norm for all public schools. All public schools have the obligation to ensure every dollar benefits students.
One of the defining tenets of charter schools is that with greater autonomy comes stricter accountability. Charter schools are bound by performance contracts that demand quality. Underperforming schools get shut down. Charter authorizers around the country agree—more low-performing schools are closed each year.
Not only do charter supporters agree with union leadership on charter accountability, but we also are on the same page for implementing solutions for improving struggling schools, student-centered education and wraparound services.
The High Tech High schools in California are among the many public charter schools that offer project-based learning. Green Dot Public Schools supports the families it serves at 18 Los Angeles schools by helping them advocate for higher wages and registering parents and students to vote.
In cities like Denver, Washington, D.C., San Antonio and, yes, New York City, collaboration between school districts and charter schools is increasingly the norm. In fact, public charter schools are still serving as the incubators of innovation that famed union leader Al Shanker wanted them to be.
Despite increasing collaboration and agreement on most issues, there are those who continually try to drive a wedge between charter schools and other public schools. Whether they are bloggers, politicians or local teachers union leaders, it is time we recognize that those individuals are actually getting in the way of progress, often for self-serving purposes.
We agree more often than we disagree. We must start working together to ensure that all public schools are serving our schoolchildren well.