The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently released a set of draft priorities that would be used in future competitions under the Charter Schools Programs’ (CSP) to award grants under the National Leadership Activities Grant Program. NACSA and a group of leaders from authorizers, state agencies, and other stakeholders submitted group letters that supported the new priorities and suggested a few technical fixes. Click here for the NACSA group letter. The draft was particularly welcome because of its attention to strengthening accountability by improving authorizing, and for its attention to the needs of students with disabilities and English Learners.
We expect the Department to release a similar set of draft guidance in the next few weeks that will address the start-up grants administered by State Education Agencies (SEAs) through the CSP. Based on discussions with the Department officials, we expect the priorities for the SEA grant competition to also advance our goals. These are good victories for trying to promote high quality authorizing in the charter school sector
ED’s guidance included priorities in five areas, including: improving access and services for Special Education and English Language Learners; strengthening accountability through improved charter school authorizing; using economies of scale to provide services and help to charter schools; and supporting the effective use of technology.
In general, we strongly support the Department’s approach in the notice, and applaud the attention to accountability, as well as the prioritization of efforts to enhance access and the quality of services provided to SWD and EL.
There are a few areas of concern in the guidance that we commented on in our letters, and which we are working closely with our partners at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, to jointly influence the Department. One issue the guidance bungles is a definition of “high-quality” charter schools. They tend to treat high quality charters as those worthy of national replication, and all other charter schools as worthy of closure. We, of course, see a much more nuanced distribution of quality — with many levels of school performance. The real world includes many schools that may not be as good as they could be, but which deserve to stay open. There are other schools that are doing fine, but which are not interested in, nor should they be expected to, start replicating at a large scale. We also called for more support for collaboration between the charter school sector, and those in the communities with expertise and experience special education and English Language Learners to work together on common challenges.