Greg Richmond: Are Charter School Standards At Risk From Within?
In honor of National Charter Schools Week (May 1-7), is featuring a series of articles and essays that highlight the accomplishments of America’s charter leaders, students, and policies. This series aims to provide a comprehensive view of the charter school landscape.
Upon reading "Case Study: Rainshadow H.S., a Haven for Nevada’s At-Risk Teens, Now Finds Itself At Risk of Closure," I was reminded of the character Emily Litella, portrayed by Gilda Radner on the early years of Saturday Night Live. Emily Litella was known for her absent-mindedness and would often say, "Never mind," when corrected.
The essay discusses Rainshadow High School and its positive impact on at-risk students in Nevada. However, it wrongly attributes the school’s potential closure to the state’s accountability laws. In reality, Rainshadow faced financial difficulties, not academic performance issues, that almost led to its closure. Fortunately, the school found a solution and remained open.
Despite this temporary reprieve, Rainshadow’s low performance on state accountability measures puts its future at risk of closure. This is not unique to Rainshadow; Nevada has the lowest-performing charter school sector in the country, and no charter schools have closed in the past three years.
To address this issue, Nevada has enacted stringent charter school accountability legislation. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, my organization, supports this legislation and views it as a significant step towards raising the bar for charter school performance.
However, it is crucial to recognize that alternative schools, like Rainshadow, face unique challenges in serving students with extraordinary needs. That is why our organization produced the report, "Anecdotes Aren’t Enough: An Evidence-Based Approach to Accountability for Alternative Charter Schools," which outlines the need for a well-designed accountability system for these schools. Nevada is currently implementing such a system.
It is unacceptable to advocate for charter schools without demanding better results for students. We must avoid making excuses based on students’ starting points, the limitations of standardized tests, or the expectation of low graduation rates. These arguments echo those made by defenders of failing traditional schools and should not be embraced by the charter school community.
If charter schools fail to deliver improved outcomes for students, the public will inevitably lose faith in this educational model. It is imperative that we hold charter schools accountable and provide all students with a quality education.