Low-performing charters called out by association

Low-performing charters called out by association

(Calif.) The state’s largest charter school association on Tuesday called for authorization of five schools said to be among the lowest performing in the state to not be renewed.

In its fourth year of assessing charter school performance and recommending closure for those considered subpar, the California Charter Schools Association named schools in Sutter, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, San Diego and Monterey counties as not meeting its minimum criteria for renewal.

“We believe that charter public schools should be held to high standards of performance and when they do not perform, we advocate for their non-renewal,” Jed Wallace, president and CEO of CCSA, said in a statement issued Tuesday morning.

“We recognize that closing a school is a difficult decision,” Wallace said, noting however that “closing low-performing charter public schools is one of the strongest tools available to ensure quality in California’s charter school sector.”

Charters, free public schools that must be authorized by either a local school district, county office of education or the state, operate mostly outside the bureaucratic structure of those agencies, although charter agreements – issued for up to five years at a time – generally contain conditions that must be met prior to reauthorization. Those conditions often include proof that the school is financially sound and producing good academic results.

The CCSA advocates on behalf of policies and programs that support the mission of the state’s 1,184 public charter schools, and, say officials, its annual performance review – including public calls for non-renewal – is key to preserving a thriving and successful charter network.

The five charter schools identified by CCSA as being among the lowest performing schools in the state have not demonstrated substantial growth over time, and have consistently ranked near the bottom of state and local measures of academic performance, association officials said.

The charter association uses an Accountability Framework that values academic rigor while also giving schools credit for growth and for serving a large percentage of the state’s disadvantaged student population as the basis for determining which charters are meeting its minimum performance standards, and which are not.

CCSA publishes Academic Accountability Report Cards every fall that show each charter school’s status on the Accountability Framework and Minimum Criteria for Renewal, and encourages authorizers to use this data in making their decision about whether to renew a school’s charter.

In order to meet the association’s Minimum Criteria for Renewal, charter schools must have operated for a minimum of four years and meet at least one of the following:

  • Academic Performance Index (API) score that is above the 27th percentile of performance for all schools in California in most recent year (API 2013 score greater than or equal to 749), or;
  • Three-year cumulative API growth of at least 50 points (2012-13 growth + 2011-12 growth + 2010-11 growth), or;
  • Within range of or exceeding predicted performance based on similar student populations statewide, in either of the last two years, based on CCSA’s metric, the Similar Students Measure, and;
  • Second Look: For schools below the first three criteria, CCSA offers a “second look” process whereby schools may submit additional evidence of student academic gains that may demonstrate higher levels of growth than what is seen at other schools.

“Students only get one shot at first grade or freshman year. That’s why we remain committed to transparency and accountability for charter public schools,” Wallace said in his statement. “We believe that closure of persistently underperforming schools is a natural part of a healthy charter school movement, and will allow us to continue reinventing public education in California.”

Of course, the group’s recommendations are just that; the final decision on renewing a charter rests with authorizing agencies, which are directed under state law to use academic criteria as the most important factor in considering whether to grant a charter renewal.

This year’s nominees recommended for non-renewal and their authorizers are: South Sutter Charter School, Marcum-Illinois Union Elementary School District; Manzanita Middle School Charter, West Contra Costa County USD; New City Charter School, Long Beach USD; RAI Online Charter School, Vallecitos School District in San Diego County; and Oasis Charter Public School, Alisal USD in Monterey County.

CCSA in 2011 recommended non-renewal for 10 charters, and in 2013, added six more to the list.

According to information provided by CCSA, of the 10 schools recommended for closure in 2011, four charter schools closed, one switched to Alternative School Status or ASAM (meaning it no longer falls under CCSA’s minimum criteria for renewal); three received renewal conditioned on meeting specific academic targets and improved enough to rise above non-renewal status in subsequent years, and two schools were renewed despite the group’s call and have since showed no improvement.

In its second call for non-renewal of six schools in 2013, CCSA named three chronically underperforming schools that were up for renewal that year as well as three chronically underperforming schools that had already been renewed – inappropriately, according to the association. While none of the previously renewed schools was revoked, one of the three schools up for renewal was closed by its authorizer, per CCSA’s recommendations.

While there were schools that fell below CCSA’s minimum criteria during the 2012-13 school year, the group reported, none of them were up for renewal that year so no call for non-renewal was issued. The association did come out in support that year of a directive by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers “to be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great ones.”

NACSA, which represents government and other entities that approve and oversee charter schools, issued the challenge following results of a membership survey showing that the closure rate for charters seeking renewal had doubled from year to year; however state accountability data showed that there were still “far too many schools among the lowest performers” leaving too many children without access to a quality education.

There are 91,000 students on California charter public school waiting lists – despite an additional 87 new charter schools opening this year for a total of 1,184 charter schools in the state, according to CCSA. Nearly 548,000 students attend a charter school in California, leading the nation in the number of charter school students and the number of charter schools.

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