Commissions are usually intended to give politicians time, political cover and some wiggle room on controversial topics. I’m sure these were some of the goals when the Blue Ribbon Commission on Charter Schools was formed several months ago. Yesterday the commission held its last formal meeting and in the next few weeks a final report with recommendations will be submitted to the legislature. While we know it’s early, some of the recommendations give charter school advocates reason to be hopeful. For starters, it looks like the cap is being lifted. Exactly how high will, in part, be determined by where charter schools locate and by the overall performance of the schools. The Commission is recommending the number of charter schools be increased by at least six annually. However, other factors could boost that number. For example, new charter schools that open in counties where none previously existed, would not be counted against the cap. In addition, “high performance” by charter schools could also increase the number of new charters. Specifically, the Commission will recommend that DPI approve up to as many new charter schools as there are “high performing” charter schools. As yet, there is no definition for “high performing.” Most likely this will be the next battleground.
While there is reason for cautious optimism, it’s still hard not to notice that many commission members hold charter schools to a standard that they are unwilling to apply to public schools. I’m all in favor of performance based measures and closing charter schools that don’t meet standards. However what does it say to others when we’ll shut down a school of a couple hundred that doesn’t meet standards, but will keep open for years schools with total enrollments in the thousands that consistently fail to meet performance standards? If someone knows the reasons for exempting public schools from the same evaluation process, please let me know.