Recent reports on the state of the sector from two major charter organizations—National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) and National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA)—give me some hope that the sector is sharpening its focus on quality over quantity.
Don’t get me wrong: We definitely need quantity. A 2014 report from NAPCS shows that more than 1 million student names are on charter school waitlists—the demand is there from parents and students alike. Some states (looking at you, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia) don’t have any charter school law at all. Kentucky legislators just recently passed a law. But as NACSA’s Greg Richmond recently pointed out, given the new administration, there is “little doubt that there will be more schools with the word “charter” in their names in the years ahead.”
Like Queen Beyonce, charter schools have been around since the 90s—and also like Beyonce, it’s important that they continue evolving and improving. Taking these two reports together, it seems like the charter sector is doing exactly that.
NAPCS’s annual report, which scores and ranks every state on their charter school laws, highlights improvement in the laws in my home state of Michigan. We now require authorizers to be “accredited” before they can approve additional schools in Detroit. We also enacted automatic closure triggers for persistently low-performing charter schools across the state. And we put an end to the shameless practice of authorizer hopping (i.e., wherein a low-performing charter school transfers from one authorizer to another in order to avoid being closed for poor performance).
That same report also points out that Washington, D.C., a jurisdiction with strong accountability measures, has moved down in rankings since 2010 from #2 to #18—without worsening their own laws. This is a direct result of more states improving their transparency and accountability laws while D.C. more or less stayed the same (which, again, is still pretty good).
In fact, about half of NAPCS’s criteria are related to transparency, accountability and quality. The rest have to do with other incredibly important aspects of charter school laws, including facilities, funding, caps and more. That said, having such a large part of their criteria focused on quality shows that they, as leaders in the sector, are increasingly focused on making sure that we’re not just providing more education options for students, but high-quality options.
NACSA’s report, on the other hand, takes a look at “openings, closings, and why authorizing matters.” Again: a clear focus on quality from a leader in the charter sector. This report found that charter growth has slowed dramatically over the past five years—with a 48 percent decrease in school openings since 2012. Charter school applications are only approved at a rate of about 35 percent—showing that it’s not as easy as some suggest to open a new school.
Given that so many anti-charter folks talk about lack of accountability in charter schools, it’s encouraging to see charter school leaders coming right back at them with more quality, transparency and accountability.