Breaking the charter: Subpar charters should be closed, not turned around

Should charter schools be turned around using School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds, or does that defy the spirit of the contracts by which they’re created?

Relative to traditional public schools, charter schools are granted autonomy over staffing, school design, curriculum and the like in exchange for greater accountability for results. In theory, charter schools that fail to perform should be closed—and hopefully replaced by charter schools with greater potential to serve students effectively.

But a story out of Chicago paints a different picture: Rather than close a poor performing charter school, the city will pour approximately $6 million into turning it around. A recent Education Sector analysis of federal SIG or turnaround funds, which are directed to the lowest performing schools in each state, found that Chicago is not alone: Nationally, almost seven percent of the schools that receive SIG turnaround funding are charter schools.

Charter schools authorizers—the entities that regulate charter schools—must get serious about quality.

One of the promising aspects of the charter school model has been the inclusion of both performance contracts and a mechanism to continuously improve the quality of school options by closing poor performers and replacing them with high potential or high performing alternatives. The stories above suggest that implementation of both of these ideas is falling short of expectations.

Charter schools authorizers—the entities that regulate charter schools—must get serious about quality. They must do the hard work of closing poor performers (not turning them around) and replacing them with better alternatives. Otherwise, students and their families will be the ones who pay the price for a poor education.