Charter schools allow for the full range of human potential. Some are much worse than a state-run school and some are far better. The nice thing about charter schools is that, in theory, they take more responsibility for their academic outcomes. They are transparent; it’s easy to see how they’re doing. However, they also desire survival. These characteristics conflict and play out in interesting ways.
Here’s a true story: In Louisiana, all public schools are given a School Performance Score (SPS), and the median score is 100. SPS is calculated by attendance and state test scores (LEAP in Louisiana). When I arrived as a newbie teacher, my school had a 78, a vast improvement from the year before. We celebrated. We printed out a huge poster and adorned the school’s entrance with it. We told everyone how great we were. The next year we started to tank – our SPS dropped back to its original level. We didn’t publicize this. We said that we expected a drop in score because we were teaching kids at their skill level. This meant we weren’t teaching them the stuff LEAP tests were assessing. We expected to do better the next year. But, our scores dropped again. Now, our charter to operate a school was at stake. But, like any organization, we wanted to survive. We dropped our “teach at their skill level” slogan and taught just what the state wanted us to teach them. Those scores were going to rise, or else.
As most everyone who has charter experience will tell you, charters are hit or miss. So, charters, or privatization, are not enough to solve educational inequity in our country. But, they might be part of the answer. The problem is we don't have the right people teaching and leading schools in low income and minority communities. We have a shortage of good teachers and administrators. What caused our SPS fluctuations in New Orleans? The years we scored high, our staff was more experienced and more highly skilled. Conversely, the years we scored lower, our staff was less experienced and lower skilled.
Privatization or regulation? I'm pro anything that provides incentive to qualified teachers and leaders to go to under-performing schools, and against anything that maintains the status quo or worse. Charters may provide more latitude to schools to offer incentives to high quality staff. But if they don’t, it’s not worth promoting them.
Schools should be judged by their students’ educational outcomes. Although state test scores aren’t great, they are the best measure we have for school success. Charter schools that take responsibility for their student achievement data, even when it’s ugly, help identify low quality teachers and leaders. These people need to be replaced with good, even great, teachers and leaders. Don’t get me wrong, it is extremely hard to be a good teacher or school leader. Those people need to be identified, and then incentivized to work in low income and minority serving schools.
The charter movement made the schools compete, now we need an accountability movement to make the teachers and leaders compete.
Photo Credit: Infrogmation