Charter school growth should be managed carefully

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 03:41 PM

The Office of Charter Schools at the N. C. Department of Public Instruction received 161 letters of intent for potential charter applications later this spring. This signals a tripling of new charter applications this year over 2012 and a continued surge in new charter schools opening across the state.

As a charter principal myself, I am excited by the sincere interest in starting new charters, but recommend Gov. Pat McCrory and the State Board of Education manage this growth carefully. Our leaders have an opportunity to leverage charter growth to help us solve one of the biggest education problems our state is facing: how our public schools improve the life outcomes of children from low-income communities.

First, new charters schools need to be held to higher standards of accountability. The new charter school application process should be more rigorous and less politicized. 

We must hold the bar higher for existing charters as well.  The governor and state board must aggressively close schools that fail to achieve student growth. Sure, the rules are different for traditional public schools, but that’s the point. Charter schools get autonomy by submitting to high-stakes accountability. In turn, well-run schools that are excelling academically and socially should earn further flexibility in how they achieve their goals.

Second, the governor should push for equal access to all our public charter schools. Too many charter schools do not provide school bus transportation or free lunch, thereby limiting access to low-income students. It is imperative that we do not create private schools on the taxpayer dime.

We need schools that close academic and social gaps for all kids, especially kids who qualify for free lunch, do not speak English or have disabilities. If charter schools are not serving significant populations of these students effectively what do they have to offer public educators in the 21st century?

The governor should encourage charters in our state with a proven track record of closing the achievement gap to expand and replicate their model in other locations. The governor should also have DPI release funds early for new charter schools that provide bus transportation and provide free lunch. Better yet, he should encourage districts that partner with charter schools to provide transportation and other services to ensure equal access.
On that point, it’s critical we move beyond the contentious dialogue between charter public schools and traditional public schools. The Gates Foundation recently awarded $25 million dollars to a small number of school districts for conducting groundbreaking work with charter schools (none in North Carolina). The governor should follow their lead and recommend incentivizing a small number of districts that develop concrete partnerships with charter schools to promote innovation.

If we truly want to ensure ALL students are ready for college and career we must come together to capitalize on the depth of knowledge, resources, and experience school districts have and the innovative practices happening in charter schools. Doing so will put students first and move us closer to the day when ALL children have access to an excellent education.

Alex Quigley is principal of Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham.