Earlier this month the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools published a new report entitled “The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: 2014” that unfortunately sheds little light on the health of movement, except that the charter movement is susceptible to the same disease that eventually infects all movements – bureaucratic thinking that every institution, or in this case, every state has to fit in same little square box to be of value.
How sad that the state of the chartering movement on the national level has succumbed to the very thing that chartering was supposed to free public education from – conventional thinking and ways of doing things.
The report presumes that the factors chosen are actually critical factors in determining the health of the movement, then arbitrarily sets out which of those factors should be given more weight than others, no matter local realities, and finally it uses that weighting system to compare and rank states – all of which have unique histories, circumstances, and characteristics.
While it defines the “health” of the movement in three areas – Growth, Innovation and Quality, which on the face of it are reasonable areas to measure, the actual criteria used to measure each of these areas are simplistic, narrow and grossly inadequate if the report is to be more than a political document.
GROWTH is defined in terms of numbers that indicate a preferred result – The percentage of public schools that are charters, the percentage of students who attend charters, the percentage of students by race, ethnicity and special education, the percentage of schools by geographic distribution, the number of communities with more than 10% charter school students, the average opening rate of new schools, and the average closure rate of schools.
Examining how the report weights these numbers, it does not take much imagination to wonder if there is a political agenda or at the very least an ideal model of what a perfect charter school state world looks like. So much for just reporting the facts and recognizing that every state environment is different, and that perhaps every state has different goals regarding growth.
INNOVATION is defined in terms of 5 long-established practices – the number of longer school days, the number of longer school years, independent study, school-to-work, and post-secondary classes. None of these criteria are actually innovative in nature. So much for promoting and recognizing innovation in the charter school movement.
QUALITY is defined in terms of the narrowest of criteria – 1) The number of additional days of learning reading and, 2) The number of days learning math. With all the research on the critical factors for defining quality, no matter the type of organization and endeavor, it is mind-boggling that charter school quality should be reduced to whether one spends 5 or 10 more days on two subject areas. How sad for the charter school movement and how limiting for young people in public charter schools.
Final Diagnosis – The Report is suffering from a severe and acute case of anemia.