Selected readings on US charter schools
As America struggles with high numbers of school dropouts and too few students who are proficient in math and reading, state lawmakers in Madison have a golden opportunity to strengthen one of the most promising approaches to better public schools for all Wisconsin children.
The approach is public charter schools, which already educate some 37,000 Wisconsin students in 238 schools. Wisconsin has an opportunity to make substantive changes that would lead to more high quality charter schools, increase accountability for charters and entities that approve and oversee them, and create greater opportunities for children and families.
Wisconsin has one of the nation’s weakest charter school laws, in large part because it provides charters too little autonomy to innovate and also carries too little real accountability for charters that don’t succeed. And authorizers — the bodies that approve and oversee charters — also are not held accountable for the success of schools in their portfolio.
If Wisconsin is willing to make tough decisions, putting children ahead of politics, we could have one of the strongest laws in the country. Better schools will follow and children and families will benefit.
Public charter schools are a crucial part of our educational landscape in our country. As public schools, they accept any and all students. Importantly, they receive flexibility from some rules and regulations (except those related to educational standards, health and safety) in exchange for real accountability. This flexibility is empowering thousands of charter schools to better educate their students, particularly low-income African-American and Hispanic students.
It’s important to differentiate charters from “choice” or “voucher” schools. Unlike voucher schools, which are private and often religious, charters are public schools in every way, including laws governing public meetings and “sunshine laws” covering public information. And charters are held to rigorous standards of approval and continued operation.
Over the past four years, there have been several attempts to enact key reforms to Wisconsin’s outdated charter school law, with no success. All the while, other states around us have been taking huge strides to provide choice and opportunities in public education through charter schools.
Wisconsin prides itself on job creation and business growth. Yet, without making improvements to our educational system, we could be severely lacking in the manpower needed to sustain that growth.
It is time for significant reforms. We need to:
• Allow independent bodies to approve and monitor charters. Currently that’s done mostly by school districts, which often and sadly have a vested interest in preserving the status quo. This change helps truly independent, innovative charters open statewide.
• Open enrollment to all Wisconsin children, regardless of where they live.
• Allow for and set standards for charter school approval, expansion, and renewal to encourage only high-quality growth of the charter sector.
• Require regular reporting and evaluation of authorizer performance to hold authorizers accountable for their actions as the sector grows.
These reforms will help fulfill the promise of public accountability for authorizers and charter schools. That not only protects children but also lets parents, taxpayers and policymakers know whether charters are working and authorizers are responsibly doing their jobs.
Since their inception two decades ago, charters have shown the ability to help children in their classrooms but also collaborate with districts to share what works and improve schooling for all children.
Our two organizations are dedicated to the growth of high quality charters schools so more children, whether in district or charter schools, can receive the great public education they deserve.
Source: Green Bay Press Gazette – by Carrie Bonk (Executive director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association) and Greg Richmond (CEO of the National Association of Charter Schools Authorizers)