Reader Beware: There Is No National Charter Sector

The Washington Post ran an opinion piece on May 30, 2019 titled “Schools Out,” which claimed Americans are turning against public charter schools because they have failed to save public education. In response, NACSA submitted the following to the paper’s editors and published it on our site as an open letter to the editor.

When a national paper of record runs an opinion piece on the state of the “national charter sector,” as the Washington Post did this week, watch out.

For there isn’t one national charter school sector: Within each city and state, the quality of charter schools differs greatly. Even the frequency of charter school models being proposed and opened doesn’t look the same from one state to the next.

This is because behind every charter school is an authorizer, and if and how authorizers do their jobs to open and monitor charter schools greatly shapes the quality of public schools in a community.

Smart, proactive authorizing is a catalyst for charter schools that transform public education, as we’ve seen in places like Denver, Indianapolis, New Orleans, New York City, and Washington, DC. In fact, the same “rigorous research” from Stanford University cited in the piece has routinely found urban charter systems are producing vastly better educational outcomes for low-income, urban, and minority students.

In Massachusetts, the author’s state of residence, a strong authorizer and charter law have created some of the nation’s most impressive results for children, particularly in Boston. As one Harvard University researcher put it, in the course of one school year, “charter schools in the Boston area are closing one half of the Black-White achievement gap in math and roughly one fifth of the Black-White achievement gap in English.”

Unfortunately, the quality of charter laws and authorizing institutions varies across the country. This has led to uneven charter quality and availability, as some authorizers block access, innovation, and growth.

While not every charter school is succeeding, we can learn from the cities and states that have created oversight systems where charter schools are thriving. When we improve authorizing in more communities, we can ensure that students have access to more great schools.