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One is the loneliest number

sesamestreet1When is a charter law not a charter law? When is a charter school not a charter school?

Ask Mississippi.

Like a thief in the night, July 1st of this year came and went, slipping out the back door with the Magnolia State’s charter law as legislators allowed it to sunset without even a word.

Nobody seemed to notice. Not the press. Not the bloggers. Not the major edreform players. We didn’t even mention it, but in our defense, it was really hot that day and we were planning a cookout.

Another group that likely missed the significance of the loss of the law: the faculty and students of Mississippi’s lone charter school – The Hayes Cooper Center.

The school was basically a glorified magnate school, did not have true autonomy and was tied to the school district in so many ways as to make it indistinguishable from its conventional counterparts.

Each year, we analyze and grade the country’s charter school laws, assigning a letter grade to each.  Last year, Mississippi received an ‘F’ with an analysis that placed it last among the (then) 41 laws.

Certainly, The Hayes Cooper Center probably didn’t feel much different as kids ran out to greet the first day of Summer than it did when they trudged back for Fall classes.

And it was Mississippi’s weak law – one that its lead architect later referred to as “the sorriest” in the nation – that allowed this to happen.

The ‘Race to the Top’ competition has placed a national spotlight on charter schools and charter legislation as lawmakers everywhere begin to tinker with theirs in order to polish them up before the Department of Education passes judgment in the Spring.

Will their laws shine any brighter than Mississippi’s? Certainly. But, while the Mississippi law contained glaring obstacles to charter realization, will they remove even those subtle barriers from their laws that block growth and success for schools and for students? What we’ve seen so far raises grave doubts.

At least when CER’s grades are released next week, they’ll know where they stand and, hopefully, who to emulate.

(HINT: The country’s strongest charter law was never batted around a State House.)

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