Tag Archives: Washington

The Charter Model Goes to Preschool

Richmond College Prep emphasizes a student-centered atmosphere.

Photo courtesy of Richmond College Prep

Over the past 20 years, both charter schools and prekindergarten have taken on increasingly prominent roles in the schooling of America’s children. Charter schools in 43 states now serve more than 2.6 million students — roughly six percent of all students attending public schools. And more than two-thirds of four-year-olds attend some form of public or privately funded preschool, with 1.4 million of them enrolled in state-funded pre-k programs.

As separate reforms, charter schools and pre-k produce strong, positive results for high-need children. But what happens if we marry high-performing charter schools with high-quality pre-k? Could the combination of these two reforms produce a result better than the sum of its parts?

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Charter Board Members Shape DC’s Charter Sector in Countless Small Ways

In a new report “Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital,” my co-author Allison Crean Davis and I provide a wealth of new information on charter boards in Washington, DC. But there’s one simple fact that merits further consideration: 62 different boards oversee the schools that enroll nearly half of the city’s children. Individually, each charter board makes consequential decisions for their school. But collectively, their decisions shape how the whole sector evolves.

School-level governance means charter boards can act quickly, approve the roll out (or roll back) of programs in response to feedback, and even address individual student or parent concerns. Decisions at this scale can be faster, more responsive, and less bureaucratic than those at the district or state level. In short, it is far easier to change the course of a speedboat than the Queen Mary (or the Titanic, depending on your optimism regarding district reform efforts).

Depending on a school’s particular challenges, one charter board may spend a great deal of time and energy debating whether and how to increase the salaries of their teachers. Another may focus on student recruitment and retention. A third may spend most of its time searching for their next school leader. The open responses to our survey showed board members wrestling with each of these issues and many more. In these myriad discussions and decisions, small organizations are responding and adapting to changing needs, problems, new information, and opportunities.

We note in our report a number of data points that suggest boards of low-quality charter schools are changing their practices. As we might expect, the boards of the highest-quality schools are most likely to evaluate their school leaders, they meet most often, and they have the most accurate knowledge of their school’s student population. However, the board practices of low-quality schools fall between those of high- and middling-quality schools rather than below them.

These data points present the possibility that board members of low-quality schools are responding to their own sense of urgency to improve school quality and/or pressure from the DC Public Charter School Board. (More research, especially analyzing board practices and school quality over time, would shed valuable light here.)

School-level governance means that the potential impact of a charter board’s actions are correspondingly smaller than the potential impact of an urban district’s comprehensive reform plan. However, school-level governance also enables each charter school to adapt more quickly, in a thousand small ways. Meanwhile, the education policy community watches to see whether these adaptations collectively fulfill the promise of a continuously improving charter sector. I’m optimistic.

You can read the full report here.

Red Herring in the Evergreen State: Adult Special Interests Try Blocking Progress (Again)

Red Herring

via havokjournal.com

What if I told you that there was a method for improving urban schools that, when done well, can close the achievement gap between low-income students of color and their white, wealthier peers? That, when instituted citywide, it can result in the most improved urban district in history? That there are reams of academic research to learn from, dozens of successes to replicate, and clear pitfalls to avoid?

If you’re a small group of parents backed by the Washington Education Association, you file a lawsuit to keep it from happening.

I’m talking about charter schools, of course, and the latest attempt to prevent Washington’s families from having the choice to send their children to a free public school other than their traditional district school.

If you aren’t following along, Washington’s legislature passed a charter school law by voter referendum in 2012 only for it to be ruled unconstitutional last year due to an arcane definition of what’s considered a public school. A new law with a different funding source passed in April.

Kim Mead, the president of the Washington Education Association, frames the effort to block charter schools this way: “Instead of passing unconstitutional charter school laws, we believe the Legislature should focus on its paramount duty — fully funding K-12 basic education for all of our state’s 1.1 million students, no matter where they live.”

This is a red herring. There’s no doubt that all public schools, charters included, should be funded fully and equitably. But it deflects from the fact that the legislature has already passed the law. Mead’s red herring is also a clever way to avoid saying that eight schools in five cities should close their doors to hundreds of families who sought alternatives to their traditional public schools.

The move to block Washington’s charter law is a prime example of special (adult) interests throttling a promising model for improving the educational outcomes for students who need the most help. Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and Washington State resident, said it best:

The arguments against public charter schools in our state are based on fear-mongering, not facts, and are out of step with the rest of the country. Public charter schools are no panacea, nor are they a replacement for the many amazing public schools we have today, including those that my kids attend. But shame on all of us if we let misinformation and interest-group politics shut the door on new hope and opportunity for the kids who need it most.

Washington is a latecomer to the charter school movement— 42 other states and DC have charter laws on the books — but because of this, the state’s leaders also have 25 years of lessons at their disposal to build a top notch system. It could be a magnificent opportunity to give options to students stuck in failing schools, if only a small group of adults would get out of the way.

[Corrected 8/11/16: The original post indicated that the new law had more stringent regulations instead of a different funding source. It also indicated that the new law is fully constitutional. While it hasn’t been ruled UNconstitutional, no court has yet ruled either way. Both have been corrected.]