President Bill Clinton reminded Democrats this week why they should support charter schools—and how. As first reported by the Huffington Post, speaking at a dinner of 100 international philanthropists and business people in New York, Clinton said:
If you’re going to get into education, I think it’s really important that you invest in what works. For example, New Orleans has better schools than it had before Hurricane Katrina, and it’s the only public school [district] in America where 100 percent of the schools are charter schools.
But he went on to chastise the movement for not fully living up to the original charter bargain of increased flexibility in exchange for increased accountability.
If they weren’t outperforming the public model, they weren’t supposed to get their charter renewed.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) agrees with President Clinton’s support for charter schools and his support for closing those that don’t work.
In 2012, we launched our five-year “One Million Lives” campaign with a goal of getting one million children into better schools by opening 2,000 excellent new charter schools and closing 1,000 failing charter schools. The first-year results from 2013 were encouraging. We calculated that 232,000 children were attending better schools that year because 206 charter schools closed and 491 new charter schools opened after going through a rigorous approval process.
Over the past few years, our organization and charter school advocates from California to Texas to Ohio have taken a strong stand on closing failing charter schools. That’s right: Many state charter school associations are calling for bolder action to close charter schools that don’t work. Just like President Clinton suggests. The focus on strong accountability appears to be working, as annual closure rates have inched up from 2.9 percent in 2009 to 3.3 percent in 2013. Yet there are still too many failing charter schools because strong accountability is not universal.
In some places, charter laws are weak on accountability and some state charter associations still vigorously attack anyone who supports stronger accountability. I recently attended one meeting of charter advocates where half of the group argued that charter schools should not be held more accountable than traditional public schools. Fortunately, the other half of the group reminded them that the entire charter school philosophy is based on an idea of increased flexibility AND increased accountability. Now President Clinton has reminded everyone of the same fact.
Charter schools have enjoyed strong bipartisan support during their 23-year history. With the next presidential campaign looming, it is helpful to realize that every presidential nominee from both parties has supported them since 1992. Thousands of amazing charter schools exist nationwide. They use their flexibility to provide a better education and a better life for their students. But not all charter schools are excellent. Too many are no better than traditional public schools—and some are worse.
President Clinton is right. We need to encourage more excellent charter schools while taking strong action to close those that persistently fail.