Calif. Charter School Group Proposes Stricter Standards

Published September 1, 2009

The California Charter Schools Association has unveiled the nation’s most ambitious and comprehensive plan to enforce rigorous academic standards on charter schools. The proposal could eventually result in legislators and chartering authorities closing several struggling schools.

“There will always be critics on every issue,” said Evelyn Stacey, an education policy fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, “but the purpose of stronger standards is to keep charter schools focused on their mission and to help raise educated individuals, not appease adults.”

Specific Standards

The proposal calls for establishing a baseline of minimum academic performance for each student based on his or her socioeconomic background. Charter schools would be evaluated based on those expectations. A charter school reporting results 10 percent or more under the targets would be designated as underperforming. Evaluators would recommend the nonrenewal of charters for schools receiving the label for three consecutive years.

The plan, which had been in the works since a change in the association’s leadership in February, was unanimously adopted in June by the organization’s Members Council, which consists of leaders of charter schools.

“These new standards are needed to keep charter schools on track with the initial goal—performance without public school regulations,” Stacey said. “They focus on purpose and practicality, yet they are not goals that seem out-of-reach for current charter schools or even for new charter schools.”

Strong Demand for Charters

Despite powerful resistance from teachers unions, Stacey said she sees a favorable political outlook for charter schools going forward.

“The future looks bright for increasing high-quality charter schools,” Stacey said. “There is a strong demand for charters in this state, and other states as well. The [federal government is] encouraging states to remove barriers, such as small caps [on the total number of charter schools allowed], off of charters to help aid in more development.”

The plan has drawn favorable evaluations from public officials.

“This is a spectacular idea,” said California State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell. “In too many cases, membership associations roll over on issues of quality among their membership, and this is definitely not the case.”

Mitchell added, however, that it could be a “long road” to California adopting the proposal as law.

James VonderHaar ([email protected]) is a legislative specialist in education for The Heartland Institute.