Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Bad News is Good News... No Really, It Is

The NYT has a story about charter schools that seems to be bad news, but is really good. It is all in how one views accountability in education.

New York law provides three ways for charter approval- through the SUNY Board of Trustees; the State Education Department and the NYC Schools Chancellor is permitted to convert some traditional public schools to charters. Charters are granted for a five year period and are reviewed during their fifth year of operation, at which time the chartering authority may chose to renew the charter for an additional five year term, provide a probationary extension or fail to renew the charter. Decisions are based on student academic performance and schools' academic plans.

This year brings about the first round of reviews for NY's three initial schools, all of which were authorized by SUNY. According to the Times, evaluators have recommended shuttering one school, closing the middle grades at another and providing just a probationary renewal to the third. This is good news for education and good news for parents and the community. But not for the reasons the teachers' unions and other traditional public education apologists will rejoice. This is not a failure of charter schools; it is a great success.

Charter schools promised to be held accountable in return for freedom from many state laws governing school operations, particulalrly collective bargaining requirements. If the SUNY Board follows the recommendations of its Charter School Institute evaluators, it will close one school and partially close a second. In other words, it will actually hold a school responsible for its failures. And it will not be swayed by parental satisfaction with the schools, which by all accounts is substantial.

These schools failed in their mission to educate children, for one reason or another. Every year in America hundreds of traditional public schools fail to meet their educational goals, yet not a one is closed. They continue on not even in medicority, but in abject failure. NCLB will go some ways toward holding schools accountable with its provisions for school choice, but whether it goes far enough is debatable. Until such time that schools are threatened with closure as a punishment for educational malpractice they will not improve to the point where we can claim that all children in America are provided with a quality education. There is simply no incentive, nor is there a credible enough threat of punishment, to force schools to change.

Charter schools can lead the way in ensuring REAL accountability for educational success. And it is good to see that New York will be a part of that movement. Kudos to the folks at the Charter Schools Institute at SUNY.


Post a Comment

<< Home