A Framework for Academic Quality: A Report from the National Consensus Panel on Charter School Academic Quality

National Alliance, Colorado League of Charter Schools, CREDO and NACSA

The charter school idea is based on a simple, compelling bargain: greater autonomy in exchange for greater accountability for student achievement. Sixteen years after the nation’s first charter school opened in Minnesota, there are 4,300 charter schools serving 1.2 million students in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Yet the quality of these schools across the country varies greatly, ranging from those that rank among the nation’s finest schools to some that serve their students poorly and improve little over time. Thus, the powerful potential of the charter movement û to increase quality public school options for all children, particularly for the minority and disadvantaged students “left behind” in traditional school systems û is compromised.
A key challenge that has limited the charter movement’s success to date is the broad misalignment in expectations among charter operators, authorizers, funders and other stakeholders about how to measure and judge school quality. Indeed, many believe that the vast diversity in charter school missions, educational models, and student populations — as well as differences in state accountability requirements and individual authorizer expectations û makes it impossible to establish common standards and measures of quality that are applicable and meaningful to all kinds of charter schools. The charter sector today has no basic, universal measures of school quality other than those shared with other public schools under the No Child Left Behind Act. It is no wonder that judgments about the performance of charter schools are so frequently ill-informed.
Of course, this weakness in performance evaluation is not confined to charter schools; it afflicts public education as whole, greatly hobbling and constraining efforts to improve schools. Too often, current approaches to evaluating school performance rely on data that are seriously limited and misleading, unhelpful to schools, and inappropriate for high-stakes judgments. To fulfill the promise of the charter school movement and maximize its success and impact, the charter sector nationwide needs to clarify and commit to a common set of basic quality expectations and performance measures to define and assess charter school success. This report responds to this strong need. At the same time, the framework shared in this report can help to advance standards-setting and performance evaluation for all public schools.
Read the full report by clicking on the PDF file below.