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Two years ago when I interviewed Jed Wallace, the former chief operating officer for High Tech High schools who moved on to the California Charter Schools Association, he said charter schools needed more accountability:
If there is any area where the charter school movement needs to be thinking about improvement or correction it would be in the area of accountability for low performing charter schools. … One of the great risks to the movement is that we replace System A with System A — System A being schools that are just not that accountable, where underperforming schools are protected by the very movement that was designed originally to make sure they didn’t exist.
Now the California Charter Schools Association has taken a first step toward that goal, under Wallace’s wing. Education blogger John Fensterwald explains how:
Consistent with its position that bad charters should be shut down, the Association created an accountability framework that singled out 30 schools out of 83 in the bottom 5 percent that it says should be reviewed for closure. The Association will not support these schools when their charters come up for renewal, and it plans to introduce legislation that would replace a weak accountability law that the Association says districts often ignore.
To compare charters and other public schools, the California Charter Schools Association created a new index that predicts how well each school should perform compared to demographically similar schools, then rates them on how well they do compared to that prediction.
While the state of California has a similar measure, that measure also incorporates factors the school can control, such as class size. The charter school group decided to create a new measure to focus solely on student demographics. The California Charter Schools Association also wanted a new measure because the California ranks are often unavailable for small schools.
Their report, released last week, concludes that overall, California charter schools are closing the achievement gap because charter schools with lots of disadvantaged students are performing better than similar district schools.
But it also found wide variation in how charters are doing and how much they’re improving. For instance, San Diego charters are both more likely to be in the top echelons and on the bottom rungs than schools run by the San Diego Unified school district.
They range from charters like the Preuss School on the UCSD campus, which has high scores and performs well above demographically similar schools, to schools like Holly Drive Leadership Academy in Lincoln Park, which performs on par with similar schools but has seen its already low test scores drop, according to the charter school association analysis.
Why the big range? The report doesn’t speculate. It makes intuitive sense though: When you deregulate schools, they are both freer to innovate and more vulnerable to problems. That makes it tough to generalize about charter schools, since charter schools are probably more different than they are alike.
You can see how your local school is doing on their California Charter Schools Association index on this interactive map.