Lost in yesterday’s flurry and news of the release of state test scores by the Minnesota Department of Education was a first-of-its-kind report analyzing states based upon the quality of their public charter school movements.
As the nation’s charter pioneer and a state use to having number one rankings each year for the nation’s best charter law, being rated 16th in anything charter (by the same folks who consistently rate Minnesota the number one best charter law) is, well, a little sobering. (Here’s StarTrib reporter, Kim McGuire, blogging on the report).
A proud Minnesota charter advocate might wish to discount this report, call it an outlier, or blame the methodology as being a bit off. But The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: A State by State Analysis, released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, does raise some issues we at Charter School Partners have focused on over the last several years, including the need to raise the bar on the quality of all Minnesota charter schools.
The study, which is a companion to the National Alliance’s annual rankings that evaluates each state’s charter school law, ranks the ‘health” of the public charter school movement in 26 states, including the District of Columbia. It utilizes 11 different measures to determine how well a state’s charter schools are performing, innovating, and growing. Washington, D.C. and Louisiana topped the list while Nevada and Oregon found themselves at the bottom of the rankings. Minnesota was ranked 16th.
The Minnesota section of the report was not in itself damning and suggested “that there is sometimes a time lag between policy changes and the impact of those changes”. The report stated that “we are optimistic that the overhaul to the state’s public charter school law in 2009 will yield stronger achievement results as more current data become available”. Todd Ziebarth, Senior VP of State Advocacy and Support at the National Alliance, echoed that sentiment in a panel discussion on October 1 about the report, stating that Minnesota (and Nevada), have perhaps the greatest potential to show rapid growth in performance, innovation, and growth of any other state.
The 11 measures included in the study, each of which have an individual weight, include:
1. Public school share
2. Public school student share
3. Students by race and ethnicity
4. Students in special populations (i.e., free and reduced-price lunch status, special education status, and English learner status)
5. Schools by geographic distribution
6. Communities with more than 10 percent of students in public charter schools
7. New public charter schools opened over the past five years
8. Public charter schools closed over the past five years
9. Public charter schools reporting use of various innovative practices (i.e., extended day, extended year, year-round calendar, independent study, school-to-work, and higher education courses)
10. Additional days of learning in reading
11. Additional days of learning in math
Finally, the report recommends that to increase the impact of the state’s charter movement, the state should enact policies that Charter School Partners has been advocating for many years, including providing more equitable funding to charters, particularly addressing the large funding disparity between District and Charter Schools (34.7% in Minneapolis and 23.4% in St. Paul); promoting the creation of innovative new schools; encouraging the replication and expansion of existing successful charter schools; and ensuring authorizers are closing chronically low-performing charter schools.
So we do welcome this report, not as a definitive statement about the Minnesota charter community but as another data point and perspective. It shows the need for continual improvement and more urgency and focus around growing, replicating and improving the state’s charter schools.