Selected readings on US charter schools
As the Pennsylvania General Assembly takes a hard look at our public charter school system, it’s important to take a step back and remember what this is all about: ensuring our students have schools that prepare them to be successful in life.
Unfortunately, some schools aren’t serving kids the way they should be. While we continue to identify ways to improve traditional public schools, we must also find ways to ensure our system of public charter and cyber charter schools offers high-quality options.
Pennsylvania took a step forward last month by advancing legislation which addresses key issues related to the authorization and accountability of public charter schools—through the Senate Education Committee.
When it comes to the authorization of public charter schools, local school districts are the only avenue under current state law. However, SB 1085 would allow colleges or universities to become authorizers of charter schools.
According to a recent poll conducted by The Tarrance Group, 67 percent of Pennsylvania voters support reforming public charter school laws to hold schools more accountable while allowing higher education institutions to authorize charter schools. 13 other states already permit public charter schools to be authorized by institutions of higher education.
If charter schools seek to be approved by an authorizer other than the local school district, colleges and universities would serve as a good alternative for several reasons.
First, school districts have a multitude of priorities when it comes to educating our children, and authorizing charters often becomes a secondary activity.
They may also have a conflict of interest if they vie to enroll the same students, leading to an antagonistic relationship between a potential charter and its potential authorizer. Allowing authorization by institutions of higher education that choose to take on this role alleviates this issue.
Second, the process of charter authorization and oversight could be strengthened by providing the long-term stability that comes with institutions of higher education. Colleges and universities would offer stability, consistent staff, funding for authorizer activities, and a strategy for establishing innovative monitoring and oversight systems.
We acknowledge that simply adding additional avenues for authorization alone will not increase quality; with that should come increased accountability, which is contained in SB 1085. The bill includes language that makes performance the primary factor when renewing or terminating charter school applications.
By putting a strong emphasis on charter and cyber charter schools’ performance and creating better mechanisms for closing poor-performing schools, parents are able to choose among high quality schools to find the option that best suits their child’s educational needs.
In addition to holding individual public charter schools accountable, charter school authorizers should also be held accountable for ensuring the schools they have approved are high quality, and also for fulfilling their monitoring and oversight responsibilities.
The legislation includes important reporting requirements for authorizers and permits the Department of Education and State Board to identify appropriate sanctions for poor-performing authorizers.
Public charter schools play an important role in our education system, but there is more that can be done to ensure they are all high-quality options. These much-needed reforms will create the accountability structure necessary to improve charters so they successfully prepare Pennsylvania’s kids for college and careers.
Both the House and the Senate have advanced proposals that contain important reforms to the system, and now it’s time for our policymakers to make comprehensive charter reform a reality for our students.
Source: Penn Live – Ashley DeMauro is the state director for StudentsFirst, a pro-school choice group, in Pennsylvania.