Our Position on Charter Schools

The Parents’ Campaign supports the authorization of charter schools in unsuccessful school zones.

Our Position

The Parents’ Campaign supports the authorization of charter schools in the school attendance zones of any traditional public schools that for the two most recent years have had accountability ratings that are below C – Successful (Academic Watch, Low Performing, At Risk of Failing, or Failing).

As outlined in our Seven Principles for Sound Charter School Policy, The Parents’ Campaign believes that all chartering entities (schools and their management organizations) should be non-profit, required to have a track record of success in improving student achievement in a low-performing school prior to establishing a charter school in Mississippi, subject to the same assessments and accountability as all other publicly-funded schools, and authorized by a single, non-politicized entity. We believe that legislation should prohibit virtual charter schools. (Public charter school students should have access to online courses through the existing Mississippi Virtual Public Schools program provided through the Mississippi Department of Education.)

Further, we believe that open-enrollment charter schools should use a true lottery system to determine enrollment. A true lottery means that every child attending the traditional public school within the attendance zone in which the charter school is located shall be entered into a random selection process (lottery). Parents who do not want their child(ren) to attend the charter school should have the opportunity to opt out. Students attending public schools that have had unsuccessful ratings for the two most recent years and are located within either the district in which the charter school is located or a district that shares a common boundary with the district in which a charter school is located should have the right to opt in to the lottery.

The Parents’ Campaign supports the conversion of a traditional public school to charter school status when at least 20% of the registered voters living within the attendance zone of the consistently unsuccessful traditional public school sign a petition requesting the conversion.

Our Rationale

Why should charters be allowed in Mississippi?

The Parents’ Campaign acknowledges that, nationally, charter schools have had less success overall than have traditional public schools and that the authorization of charter schools is a sensitive and controversial issue that can have broad consequences. We also acknowledge that all Mississippi children have the right to a quality, public education. Unfortunately, in some areas of the state, children have been consistently denied that right. Where there are schools that have persistently failed to move the majority of their students toward academic success, the state has an obligation to allow students and parents a good option. Although the overall record of charter schools is not outstanding, there are successful charters that have improved student achievement for children who previously had been in failing schools. The common factor among states with high charter school success rates is strong, tightly focused authorizing legislation. Our principles for sound charter school policy are based in part on lessons learned from these states.

Why limit charters to school zones of unsuccessful traditional public schools?
These tight economic times require a laser focus on the issues that impede our success as a state. We must invest in charter schools where they are truly needed – unsuccessful school zones – rather than attempting to solve a problem that does not exist by providing additional school options in zones with high-performing traditional public schools.

Additionally, research indicates that charter schools that compete with failing traditional schools have a much higher success rate than those that compete with good traditional schools. If we are going to invest state dollars in charter schools, we must craft policy that increases the likelihood that they will be successful. Click here to read about Alabama’s efforts to limit charters to low-performing schools.

Why automatically enter all public school students in the attendance zone into the random selection enrollment process?
Automatic entry into the charter lottery ensures that all children have an equal shot at attending the charter school. And, again, parents can opt out.

Why limit chartering entities to those with a track record of success?
Nationally, charter schools do not have a good track record. In fact, numerous studies have shown that charter schools have, in the vast majority of cases, failed to outperform the traditional schools with which they compete. Many of them do worse. The nationally renowned Stanford University 2009 CREDO study of charter schools found that only 17% of charter schools outperformed the traditional public school, while 37% showed lower gains than the traditional public schools and 46% performed the same. Given the relatively low rate of success of charter schools, Mississippi should invest only with organizations that have proven to be successful in providing students a good education option.

Why prohibit virtual or online charter schools?
Virtual or online charter schools have proven to have far less success in helping students achieve than have brick and mortar schools – either traditional public or charter – and students enrolled in these schools very often move backward academically. Many of them drop out of the online charter after only a few months of enrollment and return to their traditional schools further behind. Often, virtual charter schools (which receive state funding to educate children) are for-profit entities, which provides them incentive to cut corners to achieve greater profits. There have been numerous reports of for-profit virtual charter schools achieving dismal results due to low investments in student education (average class sizes of 60, up to 250 students per teacher, paying teachers below the state salary schedule and, thus, attracting poorer teachers) while paying their top executives and investors exorbitant amounts of money. Click here to read more. Public charter school students should have access to online courses through the existing Mississippi Virtual Public Schools program provided through the Mississippi Department of Education.

Why should there be only a single, non-politicized authorizer?
The “authorizer” is the entity that will review and approve or reject applications, enter into charter contracts with applicants, oversee public charter schools, and decide whether to renew or revoke charter contracts. The nature of this work requires a high level of expertise in public education. The authorizer should be well-versed in the elements critical to the creation of high quality schools and should have a strong commitment to the success of the state’s public education system. Having a single, non-politicized authorizer will ensure that charter schools will be held to the same standards and accountability as traditional public schools. An independent commission populated only by political appointees is less likely to share that commitment.

While most charters across the nation have not been successful, the states with the greatest success rates have legislation that requires a single authorizer. In states with multiple authorizers, charters tend to “shop” for the most permissive one – the one with the lowest standards. The tendency for charters to seek out the authorizer with the lowest standards decreases significantly the likelihood that the costly investment in charter schools will yield a better option for students.

More Research on Charter Schools

Although it is true that, in the great majority of cases, charter schools perform the same as or worse than traditional public schools (Stanford University CREDO study, June 2009) there are areas in which charter schools have been successful. Charter schools have had some significant success in turning around the performance of low-achieving students who have been in chronically underperforming schools. The January 2010 Stanford study of the New York City charter schools is an excellent case in point, as is the November 2012 Stanford study of New Jersey charter schools.

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