Closing Charters

This caught my eye, from my friend Ed Kirby:

Public charter school authorizers are responsible for both opening high–performing schools and shutting down low–performers. Too many authorizers fall short on both parts of their jobs.

We want to see this change and are investing $5.2 million in the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to support the strong authorization of more than 2,000 new, high-performing public charter schools and the closure of at least 900 of the lowest-performers.

Emphasis mine.

I can't remember ever seeing a grant designed specifically to close charter schools. I do think opening fewer charter schools in "net," by closing lower-performing ones, is a good idea.

I'm not sure precisely how the grant money will be spent. One place I'd recommend some investment: improving exactly how to notify teachers, kids, and parents that the school is at risk of closure.

There's a Goldilocks aspect to this notification.

1. Not too alarmist.

If the state sounds the alarm too loudly a year in advance, then few teachers will want to take the open jobs there, probably dooming the school to closure.

(Some parents will flee too in response a "loud alarm," too. But fewer than you'd guess. Many low-performing schools have steady enrollment. Often that's because a parent's next best traditional school option is often perceived as worse. There's an inherent baseline level of parent satisfaction, because they're already voting with their feet to send their kids to that charter).

2. Not too gentle.

If the state simply notifies the school leader of potential risk, and perhaps makes a public-but-not-widely-known announcement in a Board of Ed meeting, then the leader might not convey the urgency of the risk to teachers, kids, and parents -- and they will be surprised when the school gets shut down.

Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, regulators rarely draw a clear line in the sand. "If your students don't achieve gains of X and re-enrollment rate of Y, then we're likely to revoke your charter." That seems understandable, too. You'd want to preserve the chance to "take everything into account," and not single out 1 or 2 metrics. Problem is: without that clarity, you have surprise, and you may forgo urgency.

It's hard to get the "you're at risk of closing" porridge here "just right."

* * *

Two examples:

1. Frederick Douglass Charter Academy opened in Boston. It was one of two charters that opened here in 2000; ours was the other.

It was closed down -- despite many happy parents -- in 2005.

The move to close the institution stunned Douglass school officials, students, and parents yesterday, who picked up pink and green fliers breaking the news and urging them to attend the state board meeting Tuesday.

The principal pledged to fight the decision, saying the school is being used unfairly as an example of the state's willingness to crack down on charter schools.

2. Here is a more recent example.

A few days ago one of the graduates of Match Teacher Residency -- Paul now teaches in New Orleans -- learned his school will be shut down.

He writes:

I was first alerted last Tuesday that the Recovery School District was recommending to end our charter due to poor academic outcomes over the past two years.

Despite our school's work to bring in many new administrators, christen a brand-new $26 million building, and overhaul the vast majority of the teaching staff in the last year, the Louisiana Department of Education, using just two years of academic achievement as opposed to the normal three, voted not to extend the charter.

This decision was both surprising and upsetting. Needless to say, the teachers and administration are shocked at this moment.

It goes without saying that I'm committed to finishing out the year. At this point, there are many decisions that have to be made and not much information to build off of.

My commitment to the classroom is as strong as ever, but I did want to let you know of this unfortunate setback.... I'll consider re-applying to work with the same students at the same building depending on the type of charter network that enters and my eligibility.

All charter founding teams took a public policy deal. It's operational freedom in exchange for heightened accountability. That's both the accountability of parent demand, and the accountability of state review. I think closing 900 out of 6,000 charters nationwide -- representing about 15% of the total -- seems reasonable. Hopefully, though, there will be better early warning for parents, kids, and staff.