Accountability of charter schools at risk
The strong accountability at the heart of the public charter school movement has helped to make charters successful at achieving great outcomes for students.
If a charter school fails to achieve results, the school’s authorizer can close it. This creates pressure for charters to perform and a mechanism for ensuring kids don’t attend underperforming schools.
In Indianapolis, that accountability under two mayoral authorizers has yielded great results. A study by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that charter school students in Indianapolis receive an additional two months of learning in reading and an additional three months of learning in math compared to their peers in traditional public schools.
But there is a potentially troubling development in Indiana’s charter sector. Since the passage of a 2011 law expanding the number of charter authorizers, new entities have begun chartering schools, and some are not upholding the high standards that should be expected for charters.
Consider the Timothy L. Johnson Academy in Fort Wayne, one of seven charter schools that authorizer Ball State University announced it was closing because of poor performance earlier this year. Only 41 percent of the school’s students passed English and math portions of state tests last year, compared to a 72 percent pass rate statewide. Despite these poor results, less than six months after Ball State revoked Timothy L. Johnson’s charter, Trine University, one of the new authorizers, offered the school a new charter.
That comes on the heels of a similar incident involving Charter School of the Dunes, a school in Gary that also had its charter revoked by Ball State for bad performance. It was granted a new charter from Calumet College of St. Joseph, another new authorizer, earlier this year.
In the past few years, actions like these have prompted much talk about authorizer accountability. This year the legislature wisely passed a law stipulating that a school whose charter has been revoked in Indiana must have its proposal for a new charter approved by the State Board of Education before a different authorizer grants the school a charter. But there is nothing to prevent a charter authorizer from approving a new school that is bad.