School Choice & Charters

Bill Clinton Weighs In on Charter School Accountability

By Arianna Prothero — September 25, 2014 2 min read
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Former President Bill Clinton is wading into the charter school accountability debate, noting at an event earlier this week that charters have great potential, but the movement isn’t totally delivering on its promises, according to The Huffington Post.

Although charter schools can claim many successes—Clinton pointed specifically to New Orleans—he told a group of international philanthropists and businesspeople in New York City that states have failed to set up comprehensive accountability systems. Here’s Clinton’s exact quote from The Huffington Post’s story:

They still haven't done what no state has really done adequately, which is to set up a review system to keep the original bargain of charter schools, which was if they weren't outperforming the public model, they weren't supposed to get their charter renewed."

Clinton later told The Huffington Post that he was an early supporter of charter schools, but his backing always came with the caveat that poorly performing schools would be shuttered. That idea—that charter schools consent to greater accountability in exchange for greater autonomy—is generally called the charter promise or compact.

Of note here is that the former president is touching on a major debate that’s happening both outside and inside the charter movement, propelled in part by recent, less-than-flattering press and state-led investigations into charter schools in a handful of states, including Michigan and Ohio.

I spoke with Jeffrey Henig with New York City-based Columbia University’s Teachers College about this issue earlier this summer. Henig is the chair of the Education Policy and Social Analysis Department. Here’s what he told me:

There's a split even within the charter movement between those who believe that chartering needs to be done in the context of good government oversight and accountability ... and the notion that the key characteristic of charters is that they be liberated from government oversight ... Michigan is a state that very early on adopted the practices of the second group ... along with places like Arizona."

The accountability debate is focusing more attention on the quality of charter school authorizers, the entities that oversee schools, and the fact that authorizing practices and laws vary from state to state. See this interactive map.

The Huffington Post also reported that Clinton praised New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his drive to further regulate charter schools. Although there are many people in the charter movement who agree with the need for more oversight, de Blasio doesn’t necessarily represent a unified vision for what that regulation would look like.

Charter schools—specifically co-location policies where charters share buildings with district schools—have been the subject of heated debate among New York City Democrats, with de Blasio on one side and Eva Moskowitz, the founder of a high-performing charter school network, on the other. (You can read more about that here.)

To read more of what Clinton said on charters, here’s The Huffington Post article.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.