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Studies have shown success among some charter schools in closing achievement gaps for African American students. Research has also revealed that charter school students have more positive behavioral outcomes than their traditional public school peers. Charter school students are less likely to be chronically absent or suspended from school, they are also less likely to be convicted of a crime, and more likely to vote in local elections.
At the same time, research has shown that despite the positive impact charter schools have on students and communities of color, charter schools started by African Americans or those that serve majority Black students, are more likely to close, and that state-imposed closure rules exacerbate these inequities.
Recently, researchers from the Empire Center for Public Policy and the University of Arkansas examined more than 900 charter school applications in 24 states. Their findings revealed a startling divide between the number of charter schools closed that serve majority Black students versus all others:
Charter Closure Rates by Student Racial Composition and Automatic Closure
The same was true for charter schools started by African American leaders compared to all others:
Charter Closure Rates by Founder Racial Composition and Automatic Closure
Clearly, there’s an issue and the charter school industry must come together to fix it. After analyzing the data and talking to numerous charter school leaders about their experiences, we believe charter school authorizers, including state and local authorizers, must do the following:
Examine what’s driving the closures
While the research didn’t examine what drove the closures, we know from conversations with charter school leaders that many charter schools have been forced to close their doors due to financial or board management issues, not because of academic or student achievement issues.
Our recommendation: Charter school authorizers should put together a working group or initiative to help train board members, operators and other administrators to better understand and navigate state laws.
Reassess what’s being measured
Our research shows standardized test scores are at the bottom of criteria parents consider when selecting the best school for their child. It’s time for charter school authorizers to reassess how schools are being measured. In fact, safety, quality of teachers, and a positive learning environment are the most important factors for parents when choosing a school. Public officials must acknowledge these factors when determining the success of a school.
Our recommendation: Form a working group that examines how charter schools are being measured. Are we measuring the same things across the board? Are these the right measurements?
Consider parent satisfaction in the official assessment of a school’s success.
Put an end to automatic closure policies
Closing a charter school does not necessarily lead to better educational outcomes for students and their families. In fact, many of these students are sent back to the struggling traditional public school they were trying to escape. Rather than severing this important lifeline for families, more should be done to ensure charter schools serving communities of color have the tools and resources they need to meet accountability standards.
Our recommendation: More assistance should be provided to struggling schools to help them improve to better serve their communities.
Expand to include more authorizers
Permitting the creation of independent authorizers is fundamental to a strong charter school law. Charter schools flourish in environments where applicants have multiple ways to obtain charters to open schools. And, the quality of schools improves as multiple authorizers can provide a system of checks and balances in charter approval, oversight, and renewal decisions.
Examine the mix of authorizers in the state and identify institutions that would embrace the authorizing role.
Ensure authorizers have the resources necessary to do their job well.
Consider how a closure would impact the community
Parental engagement is core to the formation of charter schools, yet parents are often written out of the decision-making process related to school closures. Parents need and deserve to have a seat at the table when decisions regarding the closure of their child’s school are being made.
Parent input (through satisfaction surveys and other means of gathering feedback) be considered when determining whether a school should be closed.
A community impact statement must be required to understand the impact a closure would have on families, students and the community as a whole.
Download the shareable graphics below to spread the word about the research findings and policy recommendations
What the pandemic exposed has been an issue plaguing the African American community for years—lack of access to high-quality educational options for students whose needs aren’t being adequately served by their local district school.