Thursday, April 07, 2011

A New Approach to Holding Charter Schools Accountable

Seth Andrew, the founder of CMO Democracy Prep, with a column on his organizations plan to take over a failing charter school, a bold and courageous step:

This month, the State University of New York, one of the nation's strongest charter school authorizers, gave my organization, Democracy Prep Public Schools, final approval to restructure an existing charter school that was going to be closed for poor performance. It's a groundbreaking new approach to holding charter schools rigorously accountable for their students' academic performance and growth. The trade of autonomy for accountability, which is the hallmark of public charter schools, only works if low-performing schools are held responsible. What makes this decision so innovative is that it will allow this school to become a proof-point for what is possible in education reform without the usual disruption of a traditional school closure, in which parents are often forced to enroll their children in other under-performing schools in their neighborhoods. What's more, the initiative has the potential to turn on their ear the commonly held beliefs about what makes schools great.

…With these unconventional inputs -- fewer dollars, a lean staff and higher class size -- we hope to raise achievement dramatically. We have set the ambitious goal of achieving 75% proficiency in all core academic subjects for students who attend Harlem Prep for two years or more.

We hear a lot of excuses from leading education scholars for why public schools are failing -- they often blame the families or the students. They argue that the burdens of poverty and the lack of parental involvement prevent children from learning. We're not arguing that these factors aren't important. However, we are 100% confident that with great teachers and great schools, educational barriers can and will be overcome.

That's what makes our new approach so exciting. We're going to control for all of these alleged barriers to success by taking the same group of children who are struggling to achieve in their current school, change all of the other inputs, and we hope to get an entirely different result. To paraphrase former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, poverty is no excuse for educational failure, and Harlem Prep has the potential to prove it.

This is a risky proposition, to be sure. Most charter schools, including ours, start from scratch, with one grade of students, and build up from there. Harlem Prep is starting at full kindergarten to fifth grade scale. There's a reason Democracy Prep was the only charter organization to even submit a proposal to do this work: it's going to be incredibly hard. But charter schools exist to push the envelope, take big risks, and try out new ideas in ways that traditional public schools can't, or won't.


Seth Andrew



A New Approach to Holding Charter Schools Accountable

Posted: 04/ 4/11 12:20 PM ET

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