A Call for Quality: National Charter School Authorizers Group Says More Failing Schools Must Close For Reform to Fully Succeed

While a great many public charter schools are among their states’ best performers and are paving the way for educational innovation across the U.S., too many are failing to provide a quality education. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), which represents government and other entities that approve and oversee charter schools, today called on charter authorizers to be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great ones.

NACSA issued the challenge as its new membership survey shows the closure rate for charters in renewal has doubled from year to year but is still leaving far too many schools among the lowest performers, according to state accountability data. As a result, too many children still do not have access to a quality education.

As part of the challenge, NACSA today launched its “One Million Lives” advocacy campaign, designed to provide better schools to one million children by opening more good charter schools and closing more failing charter schools.

For the first time, NACSA is urging state legislatures to adopt new laws that hold both schools and authorizers accountable for their performance. NACSA is also calling for the establishment of statewide authorizing offices because they are more likely to implement professional practices based on high standards and promote quality growth. These changes will help create more successful new schools, including replications, while facilitating the closure of hundreds of schools that are falling short.

“In some places, accountability unfortunately has been part of the charter model in name only. If charters are going to succeed in helping improve public education, accountability must go from being rhetoric to reality,” NACSA President and CEO Greg Richmond.

“Many authorizers are, in fact, getting it right – and those are the ones with the best schools, including many that are educating high numbers of at-risk students. But too many others are making decisions too influenced by politics, faulty analysis, and bad laws,” Richmond said. “Our goal is to help all authorizers raise their games to meet the challenges ahead.”

According to NACSA’s analysis, between 900 and 1300 charter schools across the country are performing in the lowest 15% of schools within their state. While some states may have imperfect measuring sticks, too many schools are not achieving the goals promised in their charters. The bottom line is that the large number of schools in the low rung inhibits the sector’s ability to grow in the right way over the long term so more students and families can benefit from great public schools.

If authorizers are able to close the failing charters in the U.S. and replace them with twice as many excellent ones, more than one million students will have access to a quality public education, Richmond said.

“Charter schools are not the only solution in public education, but we didn’t start the charter school movement in order to create more underperforming schools,” Richmond said.

According to NACSA’s annual survey, which focuses on the nation’s largest authorizers (those who approve and oversee at least five schools), the charter school closure rate in renewal increased from 6.2% in 2010-11 to 12.9% in 2011- 12. NACSA focuses on closure rates during renewal because those decisions are most tied to academic performance. Charters that close mid-term generally do so for some emergency reason, such as poor financial management, lack of enrollment, or other non-academic causes.

“While the uptick in these types of closures is a good sign, it’s imperative for all authorizers to increase the rigor of their accountability practices so that all charters are held to the highest standards of excellence,” Richmond said.

The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools has reported a 200,000-student increase in charter school enrollment in 2011-12, bringing total charter school enrollment to more than two million students. Georgia and Washington voters this month approved ballot measures creating new, statewide authorizing bodies. Washington joins 41 other states and the District of Columbia to allow the creation of quality public charter schools.

“This is impressive growth and further proof that parents and policymakers want quality, tuition-free educational choices for children,” Richmond said. “We all have important roles to play – charter authorizers, state education agencies, school operators, reform groups, policymakers, funders and others in the charter sector and within public education – to make sure these schools are the best possible environments for children to learn and to prepare them for the future.”

By engaging authorizers and a broad coalition to close failing charter schools and open many more good ones, we can get one million more children into 3,000 highperforming schools over the next five years.

NACSA released the new data and issued the challenge at a news conference held at the National Press Club with charter school and education reform leaders from across the country, including New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, New Orleans Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard, and Jed Wallace, President and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.

NACSA also announced that it has received financial support for its effort from the nation’s leading education reform philanthropies, including the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robertson Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

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