The Charter Blog

Charter Schools Working to Earn Public's Confidence

In a joint op-ed, National Alliance President and CEO Nina Rees and National Association of Charter School Authorizers CEO Greg Richmond argue that Florida needs to do a better job of vetting new charter school applicants; schools that don’t launch successfully cause anxiety for families who have to seek other educational options and damage the reputation of charter schools that already have a proven track record of success.

Rees and Richmond praised the State Board of Education’s recent passage of a new model charter school application—which seeks to limit the length of the application, so that all critical information isn’t buried in the review process, and encourages a substantive interview with potential school leadership. Other states that have implemented tougher up-front screening processes have seen improvement in the quality of their charter schools.

You can read the full op-ed below, which originally ran in the Sun-Sentinel:

Florida's charter schools should heed the advice of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who once compared a brand to a person's reputation. To earn trust in both, you must do the hard things well.

Many of the state's charter schools are providing reliably great educations to our students and the state's accountability system requires charter schools that receive an F grade two years in a row to close. But unfortunately, public confidence in charters in Florida is marred by the fact that too many new charter schools also close shortly after opening, leaving some families scrambling for a new school.

In order for charter schools to live up to their promise, Florida's school districts must do a hard thing — thoroughly vet all charter school applicants — better, so that only the schools that are most likely to succeed are allowed to open.The good news is the State Board of Education recently took a significant step toward improved consistency and quality by approving a new model charter school application on Jan. 6. These new requirements will help school districts only say "yes" to applicants that are demonstrably ready to succeed and to say "no" to risky operations that could implode shortly after opening.

Florida has had a standardized charter school application for the last five years, but this new version would be the most comprehensive yet. New schools would face more scrutiny on their proposed educational plans, goals for student achievement, plans to serve students with high needs and their blueprints to ensure financially viability.

The application would place limits on charter school applications, which currently can run as long as 500 to 600 pages and obscure critical information within reams of paper. As a result, red flags that should be detected at this stage sometimes get lost. The cities and states with the best charter schools, such as Denver and Massachusetts, have applications with page limits, which force applicants to concisely put forth their best proposals.

In addition to each school's plans being more carefully scrutinized, the new model application requires more information about the past performance of management companies. A fair number of charter schools in Florida are run by education management organizations. School districts and the public deserve to know a company's track record of success before handing over the keys to open additional schools.

Putting the new model application into state policy is an important step to ensuring only great charters are opened in Florida, but it won't get us all the way there. Practice matters too, and each of Florida's 67 school districts tasked with the job of approving and monitoring charter schools has a responsibility to follow professional authorizing standards outlined in the Florida Principles and Standards of Quality Charter School Authorizing, which the Florida Department of Education drafted 18 months ago with input from school districts, charter school operators and our own organizations.

The standards include common-sense practices like conducting a substantive interview with the leadership of potential schools. A school district would never hire a teacher without meeting face to face, yet some districts allow charter schools to open without ever conducing in-person interviews with people who will lead and run the school.

We know from 20 years of experience of chartering across the nation that when we do a better job screening charter school applicants, children and communities benefit. Where rigorous application processes have taken root, it has led to high student achievement at charter schools in places such as Denver, Washington, D.C., and Louisiana — all of which have strong, standardized charter applications.

There is no doubt prospective charter schools will find it more challenging to get through this stage. We believe making it harder to open and operate a public school serving hundreds or thousands of children is nothing to apologize for. In fact, it has been our experience that high-quality charter school applicants welcome this rigor.
For charter schools to live up to their promise of quality, consistency and reliability, the State Board of Education, school districts and education leaders throughout the state must unite behind quality openings to prevent schools that can't even survive their first year from opening.

For sure it's the hard thing — but the right thing to do.

Greg Richmond is the president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and Nina Rees is the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Posted in State Government Issues