Outcomes for all students still matter. And outcomes matter now more than ever with accumulating evidence of inadequate progress in pandemic recovery efforts.
And charter schools are achieving impressive outcomes for students. Earlier this year, researchers at Stanford University produced a remarkable set of findings on charter school performance across the country. It’s not hyperbole to say that the policy and practice framework for charter schooling—autonomy, accountability, and access—has produced the most successful school improvement evidence of the last two decades. That is especially true for students of color and lower income students. For example, Black students attending charter schools received the equivalent of 35 additional days of learning in reading and 29 additional days in the math. And there is emerging evidence that charter schools also positively impact non-test score outcomes, including high school graduation, college attendance, and higher earnings in adulthood.
That’s one reason a recent report released by The Heritage Foundation on charter school regulation is problematic. It’s unfortunate the authors say nothing about quality and student outcomes. And we have previously critiqued the culturally insensitive research methods used by some of the authors to justify claims of less “diversity” in charter schools.
We should not define innovation narrowly, but pay attention to what’s happening on the ground. Schools excelling at the basics and preparing students for a future of their choosing is innovative in a lot of communities. And, as described recently by colleagues at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are a lot of charter schools across the country with impressive records of innovation.
Policy intent and outcomes also matter—a lot. A terrific example is Ohio. It is remarkable what the Buckeye State has accomplished—their turnaround story clearly demonstrates that smart regulation coupled with thoughtful local actors are key in driving very impressive student outcomes in charter schools.
The next wave of research and practice on this topic shouldn’t be old and tired arguments about “less” or “more” regulation—and shouldn’t use data that is nearly a decade old. The right set of next questions should be what kinds of regulations are needed to produce shared goals: growth, quality, diversity, innovation and more.
NACSA’s thinking on effective policy and regulation continues to evolve as we learn more and do more. For example, we recently produced new policy and practice recommendations on how the school approval and opening process should evolve. That included things like establishing “innovation portfolios” where very new kinds of approaches to teaching and learning can be piloted; reducing the length of applications in many places; and establishing new kinds of authorizers in some places, namely HBCU authorizers and mayors’ offices.
We don’t have it all figured out. There are some critical policy and practice questions on the horizon, especially what is needed to help students recover from the still lingering ravages of the pandemic. But we remain committed to getting it right. We welcome others to join us in that quest.