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Feds Miss the Mark Attempting to Define “Quality” in Proposed Federal Priorities for National Leadership Dollars

As part of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) the Secretary of Education is required to reserve 5 percent of the total appropriation for the National Leadership Activities Grant, which funds specific initiatives to improve charter school quality. For FY 2014, this is approximately $11 million.

In December, the U. S. Department of Education issued a notice of proposed priorities for National Leadership Activity funds that includes a definition a “high-quality charter school” that would apply to grant activities funded in the notice.

The National Alliance is pleased that the department sought input from the charter school community in the development of these priorities, as there are pressing needs and challenges facing the community. The proposed funding priorities are intended to address the following issues:

     

  1. Improving efficiency through economies of scale.
  2. Improving accountability through better authorizing practices.
  3. Improving students with disabilities’ access to charter schools and student achievement.
  4. Improving English learner students’ access to charter schools and student achievement.
  5. Personalized technology-enabled learning.

The National Alliance submitted comments that support these priorities, especially those that improve quality authorizing and help charter schools better serve students with disabilities and English language learners.

However, we are very concerned about the use of a definition of high-quality charter school. The definition the department intends to use was developed for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools program, which is focused on the replication of schools serving mostly disadvantaged students, and has only been used to score those grant applications. We have extensive concerns that the department may intend to use it more broadly, making it the de facto definition of quality for all federally-funded charter school activities.

There are some basic technical issues with how the department applies the definition to the approval of new charter schools. For example, the definition requires achievement data, but schools that are haven’t opened yet will not have that information. The definition also fails to take into account the critical role of authorizers and state accountability systems and numerous other factors that constitute a quality school.

After reviewing public comments, the department will issue a Notice of Final Priorities, which will include a response to all comments. We expect that to happen sometime this spring.

Click here to read the National Alliance’s submitted comments on the proposed priorities and use of the “high-quality charter school” definition.

Christy Wolfe is senior policy advisor for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.