Selected readings on US charter schools
Finally, a report on education reform that doesn’t criticize Wyoming.
The Center for Education Reform [earlier this year] released a study on the problems with charter school authorizers. Many of these state bodies do not screen proposed charters well enough; others do not make certain the schools are performing.
And the document didn’t even mention the Cowboy State once.
Oh, but wait. There is a good reason for that: Wyoming doesn’t have a state-level authorizer of charter schools.
Rather, the Cowboy State clings to the ineffective model of letting local districts approve n or mostly disapprove n charter school applications. It is little wonder, then, that there are only a handful of charters across the state despite the fact that Wyoming’s law is nearly 20 years old.
Last week’s report from the Center for Education Reform does mention this issue: “States with strong, multiple chartering authorities have almost three and a half times more charter schools than states that only allow local board approval.”
The flaws with local approval are obvious n even if they have not caused lawmakers to review the law. Local boards do not like to give up control (in a true charter, the school trades autonomy for the requirement that it perform); they fear competition; and they have to move funds from regular programs to pay for running the new school.
While we appreciate the Legislature’s efforts to create accountability for schools, teachers and principals, few believe that is all that it will take to lift Wyoming out of mediocrity. Rather, legislators need a multi-pronged approach, and that includes looking at the state’s charter school law.
Among other things n like making certain the schools have true autonomy to challenge the status quo n Wyoming needs to create options for charter school applicants. Even using the State Board of Education for appeals (the current process) is meaningless since most of its members come from the current system: They lack clarity about the values of competition and charter schools.
Indeed, the Center for Education Reform says this is a “make it or break it” factor. It calls independent authorizers “one of the most important components of a strong charter school law.”
There are several ways that states go about creating such authorizers. One option is a commission. But these often yield another layer of bureaucracy n it is doubtful lawmakers are going to do that n and they can become too intertwined with the current public school system.
On the other hand, states that let their universities serve as authorizers have enjoyed great success. Schools of higher learning tend to be more forward thinking and exercise independence from the public education bureaucracy.
Regardless of which path they take, Wyoming lawmakers need to get serious about creating a vital charter school law with an independent authorizer. Charters are not the only solution to fixing the state’s public schools. But they can play a huge role in raising the academic bar across the entire system.
Source: Wyoming News – Staff Editorial
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