Selected readings on US charter schools
It has been nearly two months since the Governor’s Budget Bill 40 proposal was announced. There is ongoing debate about the proposed legislation impacting public charter schools. This is to be expected since most opposition to charter schools stems from a general lack of understanding of what charter schools are and how they should operate. Charter schools also face resistance from parties loyal to the traditional district school establishment. Wisconsin serves as an anomaly with their instrumentality charter contractual opportunity. In most of the 42 other chartering states, charter schools only operate outside of the control of a traditional school district.
Charter schools are mission driven schools that work to create a culture, many of which incorporate a character education component. They need the freedom from bureaucracies and other constraints that might be a barrier to hiring the staff that will be in partnership to drive the decisions to structure the school day and curriculum in innovative ways to enhance student achievement.
Charter schools are supposed to operate independent of school districts. The school district boards are only supposed to serve as the Authorizers. Authorizers are tasked to do the following according to the guiding principles developed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers:
1. Oversee charter schools that, over time, meet the performance standards and targets on a range of measures and metrics set forth in their charter contracts
2. Honors and preserve core autonomies crucial to school success, including:
– Governing board independence from the Authorizer
– School vision and culture
– Instructional programming, design, and use of time
3. Protect student and public interests
Across the country, charter schools are most likely found in communities underserved by the traditional public schools. They bring to those communities innovative ways of tackling the achievement gaps and challenges. In order for charter schools to be successful it requires a great deal of autonomy. This autonomy includes but is not limited to the flexibility to extend the school day, make staffing decisions, test a new curriculum, increase instructional time for a given discipline or create a mission driven culture in the school. In exchange for this autonomy, charter schools are expected, as outlined in their performance contracts, to produce high academic outcomes.
The Madison School Board’s recent move to finalize revisions to its charter school policy of only allowing Instrumentality Charter School contracts in their district drastically limits the charter school sectors ability to innovate and improve the public education system in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) as the charter school law currently is written. This is at a time when the MMSD should be looking to new and innovative ways to improve the achievement gap and challenges within their district. Also the policy would require the charter school proposals have an “underlying, research-based theory and history of successful practice.”
This policy directive contradicts the charter school model. According to former State Senator Ember Reichgott Junge, who authored Minnesota’s 1991 first-in-nation charter school law, in her book Zero Chance of Passage, wrote, “for me, the breakthrough innovation in chartering was always about the law itself–the restricting of the dynamics of the public education system. It was less about the schools themselves. I expected some chartered schools would do very well while others would not succeed. The purpose of the chartering legislation was to give freedom to parents and teachers to create new schools outside the existing system. These schools would offer new opportunities for students. Chartering would become the “Research and Development” sector of public education. These schools would be held accountable through performance-based outcomes in a contract overseen by a fundamental issue that brought chartering to where it is today-the opportunity for innovation. Chartering Advocates cannot forget why we are here: to improve delivery of public education by allowing “The freedom to be better.”
The charter school legislation proposed in the Governor’s Budget Bill overhauls our 20 year old ineffective charter school law. It will allow for the autonomy necessary for charter school operators to innovate and operate as their counterparts across the country and most importantly, to bring forth new and quality public education options for families in Wisconsin.
Let’s not become protectors of our failing status quo!
Source: Wisconsin Charter School Association (blog) – by Carrie Bonk (Executive Director)