Content

Purpose

To promote educational excellence for all students through equitable accountability and certification and licensure requirements for charter schools and improved research about the performance of charter school students as compared to traditional public school students.

Issue

Since the first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992, the movement has grown at an outstanding pace. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools announced in 2011 that more than 5,000 charter schools now educate more than two million children across the nation. Nearly half of all charter schools are concentrated in just five states—Arizona, California, Florida, Ohio, and Texas—and are located primarily in urban areas. Although all charter schools are public, there are variations in their management. Some charter schools are founded by educators; others are established by nonprofit organizations, universities, and for-profit charter management organizations.

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have now enacted charter school laws, and their expansion and influence is growing at the national level as well. The federal Charter School Program, created in 1995, provides grants to state departments of education to help them plan, design, and implement new charter schools, as well as disseminate information about successful charter schools. With the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, the Obama administration demonstrated its strong support for charter schools through the creation of the Race to the Top program and revisions to the School Improvement Grants program, both of which encourage the transformation of low-performing public schools into charter schools.

Supporters argue that charter schools expand educational choices for students and their parents, promote innovation in education, and improve student performance. Skeptics contend that contrary to their mission, charter schools increase racial and ethnic isolation among students, lure away the top-performing students and divert funding from traditional public schools, and demonstrate no real improvements in student achievement. Unfortunately, research on the performance of charter school students in comparison with their traditional public school counterparts is often biased and inconclusive. A recent article in Science magazine said that 75% of charter school studies were discredited because they “failed to account for differences between the background and academic histories of students attending charter schools and those attending traditional public schools” (Betts & Atkinson, 2012, p.171). Differences in state charter school laws and the assessments currently used to measure student achievement also make large-scale comparisons difficult.

School Leaders

Charter school principals often transfer the role of instructional leadership to other administrators or teacher leaders, focusing instead on creating and maintaining a mission for their schools, hiring staff, and managing the school’s finances. A research study conducted by the National Charter School Research Project at the Center on Reinventing Public Education noted that charter school principals “also have to deal with payroll and facilities management, reporting requirements, and the school’s marketing and student recruitment. In addition, they have to be active advocates for charter schools in local and state policies” (Gross, 2011, p. 13). For these reasons, many charter school authorizers seek leaders with strong organizational management skills but not necessarily prior experience in the classroom. Nonetheless, the study showed that 75% of current charter school principals have traditional school administrator training and half of those surveyed for the research study previously worked in traditional public schools. Although new programs to train charter school leaders are slowly emerging, the demand greatly overwhelms the supply.

Another issue of concern for charter schools is that 71% of charter school leaders reported in 2010 that they expected to leave their schools within the next five years (Campbell, 2010). The survey, which was also conducted by the National Charter School Research Project at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, found that most charter schools did not have leadership succession plans and that the plans that did exist were weak.

Guiding Principles

  • The mission of NASSP is to promote excellence in middle level and high school leadership through research-based professional development, resources, and advocacy so that every student can be college and career ready.
  • NASSP has consistently supported public educational choice for all students as embodied in magnet schools, academies, alternative schools, and schools within schools.
  • NASSP believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public schools have the potential to develop innovative methods of educating diverse student populations that can then be replicated in traditional public schools.
  • NASSP accepts the concept of charter schools in its broadest sense as an opportunity for all children to learn in ways that best meet their abilities and needs.

Recommendations

  • Federal, state, and local policymakers should not divert funding from traditional public schools and should create separate funding streams in order to support charter schools.
  • Charter schools accepting public funds should be accountable to a recognized public agency and held to accountability requirements equivalent to those mandated for traditional public schools.
  • Charter schools should be required to meet the same regional accreditation standards as traditional public schools.
  • State policymakers should enact strong charter school laws that hold authorizers accountable for school performance and require the closure or restructuring of underperforming charter schools.
  • Charter schools should be governed by the same federal and state laws as traditional public schools and held to the same level of accountability as traditional public schools.
  • Charter schools should follow federal and state laws regarding educator quality and effectiveness and the licensing and certification of principals and teachers.
  • Charter schools should participate in all state and/or district assessment programs, and student performance results should be made public in the same fashion as for traditional public schools.
  • Charter schools that receive public funds should be required to select, admit, and retain all students and be prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, religion, socioeconomic status, or disability.
  • Charter schools should not use public funds to advance religious or political doctrines that violate constitutional prohibitions.
  • The US Department of Education should require that studies on charter schools meet rigorous research standards.
  • Research on the performance of charter school students should not focus exclusively on standardized test scores but analyze other outcomes as well, including participation in advanced courses, graduation rates, and college attendance and completion.
  • States should ensure that data on the performance of charter school students, especially those participating in admission lotteries, be made available to researchers.
  • The performance of charter management organizations should be examined before and after they are allowed to take over a low-performing traditional public school.
  • Cooperation between and among all public schools, including charter schools, should be maintained to ensure that innovations stemming from educational choice benefit all students.
  • Institutions of higher education and nonprofit leadership organizations should create preparation programs specific to charter school leaders that focus on instructional leadership and organizational and financial management.
  • Charter school principals should ensure they have succession plans in place and take time to mentor their future replacements and other leadership team members.

 

Resources

Betts, J. R., & Atkinson R. C. (2012, January 13). Better research needed on the impact of charter schools. Science, 335, 171–172.

Campbell, C. (2010). You’re leaving? Success and sustainability in charter schools. Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Di Carlo, M. D. (2011). The evidence on charter schools and test scores. Retrieved from The Shanker Blog website: http://shankerblog.org

Gross, B. (2011). Inside charter schools. Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education.

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. (2011). The public charter schools dashboard. Retrieved from http://dashboard.publiccharters.org.

Protheroe, N. (2011). Concerns in education: what do we know about charter schools? Alexandria, VA: Educational Research Service.

Rand. (2009). Are charter schools making a difference? Retrieved from www.rand.org

On March 8, the NASSP Board of Directors approved a revised version of the NASSP position statement on Charter Schools, adopted May 6, 2000. The revised position statement is open for public comment through April 13, 2012. NASSP invites all members to submit comments to Patty Kreutz at kreutzp@nassp.org.