Las Vegas Sun

May 3, 2015

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Holding charter schools accountable

The release of the Silver State’s first round of school star ratings under the Nevada School Performance Framework this month marks a new era for our state’s education system — one that is particularly focused on student achievement.

As the state continues the process of implementing many of the sweeping reforms passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2011, our commitment to ensuring our students graduate from high school prepared to go to college or enter the workforce will help improve not only their education but also the state’s outlook for the future.

In the meantime, there is much more we can do now to ensure that parents and students have access to high-quality public school options — including charter schools. That’s the reason StudentsFirst has been such a vocal advocate for charter accountability measures like those outlined in Assembly Bill 205, which Sandoval signed into law this month.

Nevada’s public charter schools benefit from increased autonomy that allows them to pursue new, innovative strategies to improve student learning. That freedom, however, must be paired with strong accountability measures to ensure that these schools are effectively raising student achievement, preparing students for college and careers, and providing better opportunities for some of our most disadvantaged students.

AB205 requires all public charter school authorizers to develop a performance-based contract for proposed public charter schools, which must include metrics for how well the school is increasing student proficiency and closing the achievement gap, among other performance indicators. The contract must contain triggers for closing an underperforming school and must be reviewed at least every six years to ensure that schools continue to meet and exceed the established performance standards. AB205 also gives a charter school sponsor the authority to revoke a charter if these contractual goals are not met.

Taking this commitment to charter school quality even further, StudentsFirst worked alongside the Nevada State Education Association and other education advocates and stakeholders to amend the measure to establish a clear closure process for underperforming charter schools.

There’s no doubt that public charter schools offer a unique opportunity to pursue new, innovative strategies to improve student achievement. They can help meet students’ education needs that aren’t being met in traditional public schools, target particular areas of expertise, and better serve high-need students and high-need communities.

That’s why we support giving public charter schools access to the same resources that are available to traditional public schools. Whether we’re talking about facilities funding or even basic per-pupil funding, it’s imperative that public charter schools — which serve the same children in the same communities as traditional public schools — have equal financial support to serve their students.

But let’s be very clear: charter schools are not a silver bullet. We know that accountability — both in traditional public schools and in public charter schools — is key to increasing student achievement. And only when our kids have access to the great schools, great teachers and great educations they deserve can we truly count our state as putting students first.

Craig Hulse is the State Director for StudentsFirst, a national bipartisan grass-roots movement with more than 18,000 members in Nevada.

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  1. Let's be clear: public charter schools provide an "alternative" through educational experiences that typically cannot be done through the "traditional" institutionalized establishment of the public school industry. And this is a good balance to what already exists, in my mind. The one size fits all genre that has traditionally plagued the public school system is SLOWLY evolving. Public schools are waking up to the fact that doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results simply doesn't work, and their new response to that is maximizing differentiated instruction, promoting and utilizing best practices, creating a national set of educational goals and objectives with the Common Core State Standards, and addressing a diversified school culture.

    Charter Schools were designed to offer the flexible curriculum offerings that traditional education was either slow to do, or could not do. Charter Schools offer engaging learning opportunities because they can make these decisions much faster, being more sensitive to the unique student population it serves. There is definitely a place for Charter Schools in our world.

    It is no secret that Charter Schools historically had failures along the way which adversely impacted their communities. There had been red flags raised questioning the credibility of curricular offerings having foundational standards followed so that they were "transferable" to other educational institutions. There were problems with other educational institutions "honoring" such course credits over the years; so this is where being "accountable" fits into the conversation.

    Addressing accountability on many levels will remove obstacles that Charter Schools have faced for decades. Years ago it was pretty easy to set up and run a Charter School because there were so few rules, and virtually little accountability. Ultimately, this hurt the client, the student, and the neighborhood the school was in, as well as tarnish the reputation of Charter Schools as a whole. As an educator, I am happy to see the shift in making Charter Schools accountable for the good of all involved.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. I object to the ARROGANCE of anybody putting themselves "first." Get realistic. Survival is the FIRST priority. Basic needs come way before education. Sure education is desirable and a wonderful pursuit. And, we should seek out best practices including diversification in approach--which charter schools seek to provide. Let's NOT make the mistake of insisting charters (and other school options) aren't forced into the public K-12 mold--which has been abysmal regarding results.

  3. Perhaps we should expand education to include mandatory parenting classes for all adults.