California’s influential charter school organization announced a plan last week that its leaders say would make it easier for school districts to shut down the largely independent public schools when they fail to meet minimum academic benchmarks.
The proposal developed by the California Charter Schools Association is designed to give local school boards—which authorize and oversee most of the 750 charters in the state—clear academic standards for evaluating the schools at the time of their five-year renewals, said Jed Wallace, the president and chief executive officer of the association.
“We want our charter schools taking on the hardest challenges that our society has to offer and to be innovative in doing that,” Mr. Wallace said. “But some are not working out, and we need to have accountability measures that close the schools that do not work.”
The association’s plan comes as the nation’s charter school sector is receiving prominent attention from President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, both of whom have called for an expansion of successful charters and more rigorous accountability for them.
Mr. Duncan, in a speech today at the National Charter Schools Conference, praised the initiative.
“I want to salute the California Charter Schools Association, which recently announced an accountability proposal that links charter renewal to student achievement and growth,” Mr. Duncan said. “We should watch this closely and see if it can become a model for other states.”
Under California’s charter law, Mr. Wallace said, the schools are given too many “exceptions” under which they can remain open, even when their academic performance on state exams is weak.
The association’s plan—which was shaped by the 18 charter school leaders who sit on its member council—would assign a “predicted” performance score on state tests to each charter school. That number would be based on student demographics such as race and ethnicity, the number of English-language learners, and the population of children who are eligible for the federal free and reduced-priced meals program. Schools that fell 10 percent or more below their predicted performance would be designated as low-performing; those that did so for the three years leading up to their renewal dates would be shut down.
Using that standard would lead to the closure of roughly a dozen charter schools each year, Mr. Wallace said. A study released last week by Stanford University researchers showed huge variability in charter performance in California.
“We think, over time, that the 10 percent cutoff and the new expectations will shift charter performance in a very positive way,” Mr. Wallace said.
The association now must pitch the plan to the state’s local school districts, which are responsible for most of the authorization and oversight of charters in California. Mr. Wallace said the group is also in talks with the state board of education about adopting the proposal, and would weigh whether it ought to be turned into legislation as well.
Ted Mitchell, the president of the state board, said the plan is sound and should be well received by districts.
“I think what we’ve seen here in California and across the nation is that authorizers are looking for strong and neutral benchmarks that they can use to assess the quality of charter schools and make decisions about renewal,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I expect that local school districts in California would adopt these rather readily.”
He said the state board would watch closely to see how the new standards work at the district level.
“We definitely want to see how these play out,” he said. “I do think they will be helpful whether we adopt them formally or use them as a guideline.”
A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week as Calif. Charter Group Proposes Renewal Standards