By Ben Velderman
MUNCIE, Ind. – There’s widespread speculation that as many as 10 of Indiana’s 66 charter schools may be shut down at the end of the school year due to poor academic performance.
And contrary to what school choice critics may say, those closures would highlight just how successful charter schools have been in the Hoosier State.
Most of them have performed very well, according to a university study. And the charter school system serves the public well, because those that aren’t great can be closed down.
Unfortunately we don’t have the same option with most of the failing traditional schools.
Last month, Stanford University released the results of a six-year study that found Indiana’s 15,297 charter school students are outpacing their public school peers by a significant margin. Charter students “made the equivalent of 1.5 more months of learning gains in both reading and math” than their public school peers, reports Education Week.
While the study affirmed the value of alternative public schools (as charters are sometimes known), Stanford researchers offered one caveat: The results would have been even more impressive if it weren’t for 10 of the 38 charter schools authorized and operated by Indiana’s Ball State University.
Those 10 BSU-sponsored charter schools are among the bottom 15 percent of schools in the state, reports Courier-Journal.com.
“Indiana has seen a tremendous amount of effort to create a strong and vibrant charter sector,” Stanford’s Macke Raymond, one of the study’s authors, told the news site. “They’re not helping. The responsibility is pretty clearly on the authorizer.”
Bob Marra, head of BSU’s charter program, agreed and said the university will take tough corrective action when those schools seek to renew their charter, reports JournalGazette.net.
“We need to not renew them,” Marra said. “That’s what will happen to some of these schools. We will be taking that step very soon.”
The Day of Reckoning will come on March 1 for many of those disappointing schools. When those closures occur, school choice opponents will undoubtedly point to the failed schools as proof that charters are no better than their traditional, government-run counterparts.
That would be missing the point entirely. The reality is that every failed charter school is a silent testament to the superiority of alternative public schools.
Unlike lousy government schools which are allowed to betray children generation after generation, charter schools must be re-authorized every few years. If a charter is found to be failing in its stated mission, it is either overhauled or shut down.
If public schools faced that level of accountability, districts such as Indianapolis Public Schools and Detroit Public Schools would have gone out of business a long time ago.
Of course, teacher union leaders and other defenders of the K-12 status quo would never let that happen because it would cost too many union members their job.
But charter school advocates are different: Their focus is on what’s best for students, not for adult school employees. And if a school is found lacking, they have no qualms about closing it down.
“One of the best strategies to serve communities well is to go ahead and close bad charter schools, continue to open new ones and it’s through managing a group of schools that the community gets access to the best education for its kids,” Alex Medler, vice president of research for National Association of Charter School Authorizers, told State Impact.
“If people think of the school as the focus and they want to keep schools open, then kids aren’t well served. If we think about kids, we can close a bad school while simultaneously encouraging the creation of new, good schools.”
Even if charter school authorizers shirk their duty, a 2011 state law allows the State Board of Education “to demand answers when schools perform badly and take action by closing schools, switching sponsors (or authorizers) or even cutting administrative fees sponsors receive,” reports Courier-Journal.com.
We hope Indiana’s charter school proponents don’t try to downplay the coming closures. Instead, they should trumpet the decisions as evidence that oversight and accountability hold the power to improving the nation’s public education system.