This week is National School Choice Week, and we celebrated this morning with a huge gathering near the Minnesota Capitol with public officials, teachers and students. The celebration’s theme was Minnesota’s leadership in creating numerous public school options over the last two decades, including open enrollment, dual credit and post-secondary enrollment options, numerous district school options and, of course, public charter schools.
Minnesota’s charter school community boasts dozens of high-performing and innovative schools that offer quality choices for Minnesota families, including programs that focus on language immersion, Montessori, International Baccalaureate, blended learning, performing arts, Core Knowledge and more. Perhaps the sector’s greatest innovation is the growing number of schools using the flexibility of the charter model to close Minnesota’s egregious opportunity gaps for low-income learners and students of color.
In fact, in several yearly ‘Beating the Odds’ rankings for Minnesota schools, as many as eight out of the top ten public schools closing the achievement gap are charters. Schools like Minneapolis’ Harvest Prep Network of Schools, Hiawatha Academies, and Global Academy are some of the state’s highest performing public schools, even though 85 percent or more of their students are low-income.
So that’s the good news.
Yet, the charter sector’s performance is often rightly criticized as being uneven—and rightly so—because there are still too many weak charter schools, particularly serving low-income students.
It’s time for the charter community to fix this problem.
In response to this challenge, Charter School Partners has embarked on a three-pronged strategy for improving the charter community:
- Create a new generation of high-performing charter schools serving low-income students. CSP has helped launch a dozen new schools in the Twin Cities since 2010, including replicating several high-performing charters;
- Pursue a ‘Renew Initiative’ to transform or turnaround struggling charters schools; and
- Empower authorizers to more easily address the chronically lowest-performing charters and, when necessary, close them.
This year, CSP will introduce a bill similar to the one Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) sponsored in the last legislative session to address the issue of chronically low-performing charter schools. The measure wouldn’t automatically close a struggling charter school, but rather would flag a school’s performance and give its authorizer broader authority—including broader legal authority—to help the school correct course. Beyond having the support of our partners like MinnCAN, this bill just makes sense.
To be clear, we are not speaking of the many charters (like High School for the Recording Arts), that are explicitly designed to serve extremely at-risk students, like drop-outs and teen parents. We need appropriate standards for these schools that hold them accountable for achieving strong and measurable outcomes, while recognizing that there are many ways to help a young person prepare for their future.
We also understand and honor our moral obligation to the communities impacted by school closings. We must collaborate with families and stakeholders to ensure we mitigate disruptions by maintaining and opening better schools to replace the closed ones. These are the sorts of challenges that rigorous authorizers must address.
During School Choice Week, let’s recommit to renewing and transforming struggling charters, closing chronically low-performing charters and opening new, high-performing schools to provide solid educational options to all Minnesota children.
This is the right thing to do for our kids. So let’s have the courage to move forward with these bold initiatives as a public service to Minnesota’s least-served children.
Al Fan is the executive director of Charter School Partners.
The MinnCAN blog allows Minnesota teachers, administrators, parents and advocates to share their thoughts on key education issues. Blogging fellows' and guest bloggers' views and opinions are solely their own.