The latest efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), H.R. 5 and S. 1177, have passed the House and Senate, but the issue of accountability for intervening in low-performing schools is far-from settled. While both bills require states to measure student academic achievement, states are not required to intervene in struggling schools based on those results. And while the National Alliance supports requiring states to intervene in the lowest performing schools, as well as closing failing public charter schools, the effectiveness of current federally funded school improvement is still in question. How have students benefitted from billions of dollars in funds to turn around schools, particularly since 2010?
The National Alliance has been a strong advocate leveraging federal school improvement dollars more effectively to provide students in those failing schools with access to seats in high quality schools. We’ve called for changes to the current School Improvement Grant program in order to make it possible for states to implement city-based school improvement strategies and to encourage the use of the charter school restart of traditional public schools. To date, less than 80 schools have undergone a charter school restart, a small fraction of the approximately 2,000 schools that have received funding.
Because of the small number of charter school restarts of traditional public schools, there hasn’t been statistically significant data showing how those schools are performing as a subset of all schools doing turnaround. In order to highlight the work of charter organizations doing the difficult work of turning around persistently low-achieving schools, we’ve published a new report, Chartering Turnaround: Leveraging Public Charter School Autonomy to Address Failure, which profiles the work of three charter management organizations (CMOs) to restart traditional public schools.
This report finds that there isn’t anything “magic” about making schools charter schools that leads to achievement gains. The work is difficult, but it is leading to promising results. The operators of these schools point to autonomy over staff, access to facilities, curriculum, use of time and finances as empowering them to overhaul the school, change the culture and move it forward. Moreover, there are a number of obstacles that make a restart more challenging than opening a new charter school, such as transition costs and overlapping accountability requirements. And unlike new start charter schools, they must accept all students in their attendance zone that want to attend their school, regardless of capacity. In spite of these challenges, the CMOs in our report are achieving results high-need student populations.
The CMOs profiled in our report – Green Dot Public Schools, LEAD Public Schools and Mastery Charter Schools – believe strongly that more CMOs need to be doing this work; that even though it is more difficult than opening a brand new charter school, the opportunities outweigh the challenges.
Christy Wolfe is a Senior Policy Advisor for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.