Last week, the New York Times highlighted the importance of charter school accountability. In an editorial lamenting the overall sorry state of charter school authorizing and quality control, the Times cited a NACSA report that found just 6.2 percent of charter schools up for renewal in 2010-2011 were shuttered — a rate that has declined significantly over the last three years, despite growing evidence that charter school performance is extremely variable. It briefly called out the DC Public Charter School Board as an example of an agency “that sets clear standards and shuts schools that fail to meet them.”
Over a number of years, the foundation has worked closely with the DC Public Charter School Board to support the creation and refinement of charter school performance standards. These standards, called the Performance Management Framework (PMF), are a national exemplar for establishing clear quality measures for schools, and for establishing both rewards and consequences based on performance.
Under the PMF, each school gets an annual report card that places schools into performance tiers. The highest performing schools are publicly recognized and exempt from in-depth monitoring; the middle performing schools are exempt from in-depth monitoring except as part of a scheduled renewal process; and the lowest performing schools are investigated more deeply, and can become candidates for revocation or non-renewal. Since 2009, the DC Public Charter School Board, which currently oversees 53 public charter schools and nearly 32,000 students, has closed 14 low performing schools. The board recently accepted the decision of a charter management organization to voluntarily close its lowest performing campus in order to avoid a charter revocation based in large part upon poor performance at that campus.
Having tackled the charter school accountability challenge, the DC Public Charter School Board is moving on to the next frontier: Coupling closure with the creation of new and better schools, streamlining the process for high performing schools to replicate and expand, and ensuring those schools grow into the neighborhoods most in need. Keep an eye on the DC Public Charter School Board as they blaze a trail for other authorizers to follow.