The California Charter Schools Association last Thursday called for the closure of Leadership High School and nine other charter schools in the state, citing academic underperformance.
CCSA President Jed Wallace said that the organization is “taking a lead role in ensuring appropriate academic accountability” by “establishing clear and transparent academic performance expectations for charter schools.”
I don’t have a problem with the organization weighing in on the charter school conversation. After all, the CCSA is the state’s leading advocacy group for charter schools, and accountability is important.
Nevertheless, the CCSA’s unprecedented public call for the immediate closure of 10 schools is an aggressive move geared to garner political support, rather than to advocate for quality education. Here’s why the CCSA is wrong:
1. The CCSA recommends school closures on criteria not based on law. In setting up its “Minimum Criteria for Renewal,” the CCSA has created performance metrics that do not follow current California law (Education Code Section 47607). To justify its extralegal criteria, the organization cites Ed Code Section 47605(b), a more general provision, which stipulates that the district may issue requirements to ensure the school does not have an “unsound educational program.” Instead of relying on districts to interpret current law, the CCSA wishes to inject its own, new criteria without legislative consideration.
2. The CCSA does not trust local districts to evaluate their charter schools fairly. In its FAQ about the public call for non-renewal, the CCSA states that districts have applied existing criteria unevenly, which has resulted in “the re-authorization of charters that depart significantly from the statewide distribution of academic performance that would be considered acceptable.” In other words, local districts have made mistakes in renewing charter schools and should not be counted on to make the right decision. Even though the CCSA claims it does not want to become a regulatory agency with the authority to close schools, that’s exactly what’s happening here.
3. The CCSA wants to close schools because of test scores but questions their validity. When it comes to testing, the CCSA is all over the map. On the one hand, the CCSA argues that test scores are fundamental:
Our framework — measured by testing — is the ‘bones’ of a sound structure. Without the ‘bones,’ there is no foundation, no robustness, and nothing to hang all the other things we know to be important in a child’s education.
In another part of the FAQ, the CCSA states that test scores provide appropriate benchmarks and levels of performance to evaluate schools. That’s why the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) is CCSA’s leading criterion for its recommendation to close the 10 charter schools.
On the other hand, the organization discredits the Academic Performance Index as “not there yet” but hesitates to call the system “useless.” Most interesting is that the CCSA replaces the state’s Similar Schools Rank with its own “Similar Schools Measure,” claiming that state results “fluctuate significantly from year to year” and “have limited use in assessing the soundness” of charter schools. In short, the CCSA is using part of the state’s assessment system but throwing out the rest, thus devising its own evaluation process.
4. The CCSA modified its initial list of failing schools to single out schools for immediate elimination. In its press release, the CCSA states that 31 schools, or 3.2 percent of the 982 charter schools in California, did not meet minimum criteria. Yet only 10 schools, just 1 percent, made its final list for closure. The reason for the shorter list, according to the CCSA, is that these 10 schools face charter renewal before June 2012. Therefore, instead of naming all failing schools, the CCSA targets a small percentage, based on new criteria, and offers no time to improve. In its quest to appear tough on school accountability, the CCSA orchestrated its final list to make it more palatable.
I teach at Leadership High School, so it makes sense that I’m critical of the CCSA’s public call to close my school. Still, it’s apparent that the organization is doing this for political gain and not to improve student achievement.
For the first time ever, the CCSA is going over the heads of its member schools and daring local districts to close them. I am hopeful that the SFUSD Board of Education will see through this political move and consider Leadership High School’s application based on its merits and charter school law, rather than on the CCSA’s misguided criteria.