While the rate of charter school closures has remained steady—nearly 3.8 percent over the past four years among authorizers managing 10 or more schools—the total number of charter schools has grown. This is reflected by the increasing number of charter school closures, as reported in findings recently released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
It appears that closures outside the renewal process are increasingly overtaking the planned accountability schedule. The relative increase in closures outside the renewal process—from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 2.9 percent in 2015—bears watching and merits more research.
This increase could be a signal that authorizers are taking more aggressive, early action to close underperforming schools before or between renewal timeframes (typically once every five years). This increase could also mean that state closure laws are forcing the closure of academically failing schools outside renewal.
This increase could also mean either that a growing number of charter schools—those closing after being open only a year or two—should not have been allowed to open in the first place, or schools are becoming insolvent between renewal timeframes. The Fordham Institute recently issued a report showing relatively large proportions of charter schools in Ohio opening and closing in their first or second year of operation.
School closures are painful for students, families, and communities, but are sometimes necessary to ensure every student has the opportunity to go to a quality school.
Closing failing charter schools has been found to contribute to overall improvement in the charter school sector. Multiple studies report that more than 1,000 charter schools have closed during the last five years (including the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard and Bellwether Education Partners The State of the Charter School Movement). The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) reported substantial improvement from 2009 to 2013 in the academic performance of the charter school sector. CREDO concluded that those dramatic gains are “caused in part by the closure of eight percent of charters in those states in the intervening years since the 2009 report.” The Fordham Foundation issued a recent report on school closures in Ohio, finding that students displaced by closure had higher academic achievement in their new schools.
One of the most important roles of an authorizer is the decision to renew or revoke a charter for academic or other reasons. More research and time are warranted before drawing conclusions from the trends noted in this data on closures.