This week, we released the third edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws. Notwithstanding the positive response the report has received, there were two criticisms of it worth addressing.
The first came from Diane Ravitch: “This is a national advocacy group that wants more charter schools. It speaks for the charter industry,” says Diane Ravitch, a prominent education historian and critic of charters. “Asking them to judge your charter law is like asking Philip Morris whether your state is doing enough to regulate tobacco.”
We doubt Dr. Ravitch actually read the report because it hardly reflects her critique. We plead guilty to wanting more charter schools, but we also want those that open to be high quality. That’s why this ranking places significant weight on quality-control provisions such as transparent application and renewal processes as well as performance-based charter contracts, while also valuing provisions that support growth such as autonomy, funding equity, facilities provisions and no caps.
The second came from the Center for Education Reform (CER), which criticized our report for ranking Maine’s new law at the top. We acknowledge the complexity of evaluating the strengths of state charter school laws, and understand that the ranking process should undergo scrutiny. We note, for example, that CER ranks the District of Columbia’s generally good law as #1. Yet there is a 40 percent funding gap between D.C.’s traditional public schools and public charter schools – the largest such gap in the country according to this study. This hardly represents true educational justice and equality for kids, which is why Friends of Choice in Urban Schools and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools are fighting to remedy this significant inequity (and a major reason why D.C. is ranked #11 in this year’s report). By highlighting this point, we believe this report can drive policy makers towards rectifying this inequity.
The NAPCS model law, which was developed by a broad group of individuals with deep expertise in public charter school law and is the basis of our rankings report, is grounded in two decades of experience about how good legislation supports successful charters. Maine enacted a law that is well aligned with many of the NAPCS model’s 20 components, receiving the highest scores possible on eight of the 20 components including those related to autonomy, operational and categorical funding equity, and performance-based charter contracts. Maine's law is far from perfect – it received 158 points out of a possible 208 – and we will assist state leaders in pressing ahead to strengthen it. Also, Maine’s law is brand new – which means its impact on Maine’s charter school sector needs close monitoring.
This year's rankings demonstrate the positive momentum for the movement in state capitols across the country. Sixteen states strengthened their charter laws this year, leading to an increase in their scores in our report. Nine states lifted caps, seven strengthened their authorizing environments and 10 improved support for funding and facilities. Indiana, for example, overhauled its charter school law last year, lifting its caps, allowing for multiple authorizers, providing facilities access and increasing flexibility and accountability. As a result, its overall score increased from 97 points to 132 points and its ranking catapulted from #25 to #6 – the largest leap for any state on record.
Many states based new legislation on the experiences of those with stronger laws such as California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York. Some states fell in the rankings simply because other states made positive strides by enacting stronger laws. These developments represent progress for the movement, not black eyes for any set of states.
In addition, four states saw their scores in our report drop this past year. For example, Georgia’s Supreme Court invalidated its statewide charter school authorizer, causing the state to slip from #7 to #14. This was a tremendous setback for Georgia’s charter movement, and this report serves as a reminder to Georgia’s policy makers that they need to act boldly to rectify it.
Strong laws matter. They allow good educators to create quality opportunities for more kids. Weak laws prevent these opportunities from happening. NAPCS welcomes healthy discussion about what constitutes a good charter law (and how to evaluate them) and will continue to work with charter leaders to drive positive changes in charter school laws across the country – from actually getting them on the books in states like Alabama and West Virginia to significantly improving them in states like Mississippi and Missouri.