Tuesday, June 21, 2011

High-performing charter schools can help close achievement gap

Seattle, WA - The evidence is mounting that by drawing upon the experiences of high-performing charter schools, urban school districts can help close the stubborn achievement gap afflicting too many low-income students stuck in low-performing public schools.

There is a key role for charter schools because some high-performing networks are demonstrating that they can reach scale and help raise student achievement.

Arguing that charter school options are an important tool for urban school districts struggling to close the achievement gap, authors Robin Lake and Alex Hernandez discuss their advantages in a new white paper from the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education. The authors pull from the experience of charter networks such as Rocketship Education in San Jose, California, where its first two schools serving low-income students are demonstrating proficiency at 80 percent in English Language Arts and 90 percent in math. The paper also includes examples from Aspire Public Schools, Yes Prep, Mastery Charter Schools, KIPP and Uncommon Schools.

The key step to unlocking effective solutions to the achievement gap problem is for districts to adopt a portfolio strategy that includes charter schools to help overcome the political dynamics that typically militate against reforms that can lead to better student outcomes. Cities as different as Denver, New Orleans, Los Angeles and New York have adopted portfolio strategies that rely upon charter schools that have effectively replaced some low-performing district schools and delivered good results. "Using charter schools to replace the worst-performing schools provides proof points that show what can be done in high-poverty schools and creates pressure on teachers unions to agree to charter-like flexibilities in more schools," the authors state.

Lake and Hernandez discuss how these successful charters focus on school culture and parent involvement, use an extended school day, employ ongoing diagnostics and interventions, and provide intensive professional development. And they outline ten steps a district needs to take in order to initiate a portfolio management strategy. In their conclusion, they observe that "School board members and superintendents who are serious about addressing performance problems that have plagued districts for decades can't afford to pass by proven solutions for students simply because they are called charter schools."