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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Statement on Charter School Renewals
February 15, 2005

Starting and running a charter school is hard work. It requires a 24/7 commitment, and a willingness to do anything and everything-from painting walls, to raising money, to recruiting new students. All within a very uncertain and contentious environment, marked by threatening lawsuits and unfriendly legislation.

What motivates charter school leaders and what keeps them going is a fervent belief that they can create excellence for students who would otherwise have to settle for mediocrity or worse. And by doing this work, these inspiring pioneers believe they can stimulate broader change that will help to improve public education for all children, not just those enrolled in their schools.

All of those who embark on this perilous journey of hope, deserve our deepest gratitude and respect for embracing this challenge with courage, persistence and good faith. But these virtues alone are not enough. Charter schools are not supposed to be about good intentions and earnest effort. Neither are they supposed to be about plans and promises. They are supposed to be about results.

So far, the results are very good. Two-thirds of charter schools outperformed their host districts, in terms of the percent of students scoring proficient and advanced on the 2004 MCAS. The proficiency rates of almost one-quarter of Massachusetts' charter schools exceeded their host districts by more than 20 percentage points. And some of the highest performing charter schools are located in some of the lowest performing districts.

But even though there is much to celebrate, we must also acknowledge that not all charter schools are performing at high levels. Indeed, several charter schools are struggling to keep pace with neighboring district schools that are themselves failing to meet expectations.

There are those who suggest that we may be holding charter schools to an unfairly high standard. After all, most low performing charter schools still offer an attractive option to many parents who are dissatisfied with their local school district. And even the lowest performing charter schools can point to comparable district schools that have done even worse on MCAS or other assessments. But if charter schools serve only to expand parental choice without significantly raising the bar of student achievement, this innovative and ambitious reform will have little or no impact on the wider landscape of public education.

Charter schools are not about pretty good or just above average - especially when that average is well below what students need to succeed. Charter schools need to be about excellence, and specifically about proving that excellence is possible and achievable even under difficult circumstances, and even with students whom others may have given up on.

Are these expectations unrealistic? Based on what many charter schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere have already achieved, I believe the answer is no. Have these expectations risen over time? Without question. As anyone knows who has been following the course of education reform over the past decade, expectations for student and school performance have been steadily rising. Charter schools are no exception.

Our evaluation of charter school performance is not solely based on MCAS results. Not only do we look at other test data, but we also look at other indicators for school performance, like student attrition and teacher turnover. Moreover, all charter school renewal decisions are based on on-site inspections by teams of professionals, who exercise their independent judgment regarding the quality of instruction and school leadership. It is on the basis of all this information and more that the Commissioner and the Board make their determinations.

Once again, I want to thank all the charter school leaders and supporters here today who have given so much of themselves for such a high and noble purpose. Whatever action we may take is no reflection on your commitment or your good faith. Nevertheless, accountability for results is not an empty slogan. It demands a fair and honest examination of all the facts, and when necessary, it demands consequences. The decision before use today is difficult. It directly affects the lives of hundreds of students and their families, not to mention many dedicated educators. But, our obligation is to look after the long-term best interests of these students and the interests of the next generation of students whose faces we cannot yet see.

Last Updated: February 15, 2005
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