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Analysis of the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act

MEMORANDUM

April 11, 2014

TO:  U.S. charter schools

RE:  Analysis of the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act  

FROM: Alison Consoletti Zgainer, Executive Vice President, Center for Education Reform                                                    

Tuesday, the U.S. House Education Committee held a hearing on H.R. 10, the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, and while some are praising the legislation, the Center for Education Reform cautions that it is nothing more than a natural progression of the federal government becoming too involved in charter school policy.

The goal of the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charters Act is to consolidate two programs—the state grant program for charter schools and the charter credit enhancement program—into one larger program to counteract redundancies.

The biggest problem, however, is one that has been increasing over the years in this grant program, and, in fact, other federal regulations regarding charter schools: the federal government is taking too much of a direct role in defining “quality” and “high performance” of charter schools.

It is one thing to give grants to states with strong charter laws (usually defined in the federal grant application as states with multiple authorizers, no caps, and funding equity provisions), and then the states give out sub-grants to charters or charter groups based on their own criteria, while following the guidelines of the federal grant.

The problem is this legislation relies too heavily on the phrases “high-quality” and “replication”, giving the federal government the ability to decide what is a high-quality charter school or charter management organization (CMO). No longer is the federal government simply giving money or credit enhancements to states to disperse to “successful schools” (however they define it), but rather the federal government is going further in setting up “high-quality” definitions and dictating in some ways the process of handing out sub-grants.

Trying to judge the quality of an entire network of charter schools does not make sense because it does not allow for unique or changing circumstances. Not only do charter management organizations have a variety of schools in their network, some of which are higher performing than others, but trying to fit quality into a formula hurts or even deters a CMO from taking over failing schools.

Parents choose charter schools for a variety of reasons, from safety, to quality, to specialized curriculum. Trying to force charter schools into a one-size-fits-all “quality” definition is boxing in schools that were never meant to fit within a single definition to begin with – autonomy and innovation are exactly why charter schools were created and these are precisely the qualities that enable charter schools to be successful. Allowing a formula to determine a quality charter school is essentially saying that a government employee knows what is better for a student than that student’s own parent.

The federal role in charter schools should incentivize states to create a healthy and strong charter school environment for themselves by passing strong laws. Dictating or making judgments regarding which charter school models should be replicated or expanded should not be up to the federal government, but rather charter school authorizers and each individual state’s charter school marketplace.

The ability of the federal government to ensure that the public’s interest is protected, and that education is well managed, is best left to those closest to our families and communities. The federal role should be one of assessment and data gathering, conducting nonpartisan, objective research to support policymaking, and ensuring that the most needy are supported and helped, provided that such support is predicated on success, and not the status quo.

For more on the federal government’s role in education see:

A Reformer’s Course of Action: Defining the Needs of Substantive Education Reform in Federal Programs

For more information on the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act:

Original legislation can be found here, and amendments from Tuesday’s hearing can be found here.

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Alison Consoletti Zgainer is the Executive Vice President of the Center for Education Reform (CER). In her eight-year tenure with CER, she has led the research arm of the organization. She is a contributor and author of countless reports and studies on charter schools, including the Survey of America’s Charter Schools and the annual Charter School Laws Across the States Rankings & Scorecard. Alison has also served as a peer reviewer for the federal Charter Schools Program Grant.

 

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