By Bill Phillips
The Board of Regents’ recent decisions to close Community Charter School and propose Enterprise Charter School receive one more year to get it right give cause for both encouragement and concern.
We’re encouraged by Albany’s drive to raise standards for all schools and hold charters accountable for academics. Seeing that Community was one of Buffalo’s worst-performing public schools – charter or district – the Regents made the painful but correct decision to close it.
As was the case with last year’s charter renewals, the regents are showing they care more about academic results than regulatory compliance.
Yet they undermine their cause with unclear renewal ground rules and contradictory feedback. Worse, they open the door to litigation from schools they want to close. That’s what Pinnacle Charter School did last year and it’s what Community is considering now.
Yes, charters must have access to the courts, but doing it with almost complete disregard for academic performance is a road to no good. We drift into an educational Bermuda Triangle when charters try to litigate, versus educate, their way toward renewal.
High-performing charters should realize their stake in this fight. The longer failing schools are allowed to operate, the easier it is for our influential political opponents to push policies making it harder for all charters to thrive.
Ironically, the regents’ decision to push the Enterprise renewal back to the Buffalo Board of Education may offer a less litigious way to bridge the transition to tougher performance standards.
Both the Buffalo board and Enterprise should consider copying the approach used with the State University and UFT Charter School in Brooklyn. As part of a multi-year renewal, SUNY told the school precisely how many academic measures it had to meet in order to apply for its next contract. If the school falls short, it automatically closes.
This is fairer to both parties. From the start, the school knows what it must do. Should the Buffalo Board of Education make closure the default result for failure, it simplifies its task three years from now, needing only to determine whether extraordinary circumstances justify a reprieve. If done right, Enterprise and the board could actually improve the regents’ current process.
What we can’t do is continue to kick the can on academic quality. A landmark study issued in January from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that bad charter schools generally stay bad.
Academically failing schools shouldn’t beat the rap on a technicality. Otherwise, we risk squandering the great potential charters have to transform not only the lives of children in their care but also provide models for how all public education can improve.
Bill Phillips is president of the Northeast Charter School Network.