School Choice & Charters

Higher Standards for Charters, Fewer Stragglers?

By Sean Cavanagh — March 19, 2012 2 min read
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A recent report found that California
charter schools’ performance is “U-shaped—meaning there are
relatively large numbers of charters clumped among the state’s highest and
lowest performers.

But what would it take to remove a
substantial number of charters from the ranks of the stragglers?

The second annual “Portrait of the Movement,” report from
the California Charter Schools Association concludes that if the
state were to adopt higher standards for charter renewal, it could eliminate
the overrepresentation of charters from the bottom rung, and do it in seven

As it now stands, about 19 percent of
charters in the state, or 150 out of 789, ranked within the bottom 10 percent
of performance in California. Just 9 percent of non-charters fell in that

Charters are also overrepresented
among California’s top-tier schools: about 22 percent of charters rank in the
top 10 percent of performance, compared with just 9 percent of non-charters.
(See my previous blog item for an overview of the findings in
the CCSA report, which was released last month.)

But the report also points to a
strategy that the authors say would reduce the overrepresentation of
charters in the bottom 10 percent—which would result in closing those
that could not meet academic standards.

The CCSA recommends that charter
schools be held to a number of academic criteria, based on overall
performance and growth in performance over time. Those criteria also
factor in the extent to which charters serve disadvantaged students, and their
performance compared with schools that are similar to them demographically.

If schools that do not meet the
CCSA’s criteria were allowed to stay open, it would take more than two
decades—until 2033—to eliminate the overrepresentation of
charters in the bottom 10 percent, the organization argues.

Of course, the CCSA’s criteria for
judging charters are one organization’s ideas. Other
groups, be they advocates or critics of charters, are certain to have
their own views of how charters should be evaluated.

But whatever the criteria, as it now
stands, only a small number of low-performing charters are being shut
down in California, the CCSA found. Of 80 reasons cited for the
closure of charters over the past few years, only a small portion of them,
about 5 percent, had to do with academic performance. (See
chart below.)
A recent report by the Center for Education Reform,
a pro-charter organization, found that a higher portion of charters around the
country that were closed, about 19 percent, were shut down because they weren’t
cutting it academically.

In California, charters were
much more likely to be shut down because of lack of funding, low
enrollment, or mergers or closures that were already in the works,
according to the CCSA. Authorizers in California often lack “clearly
actionable criteria” to deal with charters with lackluster
academic records, the report says.

Without some change in the
standards for how California’s charters are judged, the authors
say, “we would not expect the concentration of underperforming charters to
diminish over time.”

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