When I was in high school, I had a teacher everyone loved: Mr. C.
Mr. C told us stories about traveling, he talked about baseball, and he let us sit with our friends and socialize. We completed worksheets; we earned As in the class. We were happy, and our parents were happy with our grades.
When the A.P. Exam results came in, only two students out of our class of twenty-five received passing scores.
The problem with Mr. C. wasn’t that he was a bad person. The problem was that he wanted to be our friend first and our teacher second. Our test results showed that we had learned none of the course content, and, ultimately, Mr. C did a disservice to us as students, regardless of how much we liked him.
Extend that scenario to an entire school: The school creates a comfortable and safe environment. Students are happy with their teachers, and parents are happy with their children’s grades. But the students perform abysmally on standardized tests. Despite the overall satisfaction of parents and students with the school, there’s evidence that the students aren’t learning.
In the new book Charting a New Course: The Case for Freedom, Flexibility & Opportunity Through Charter Schools, Jeanne Allen, Max Eden, and others argue for the end of results-based accountability for charter schools, at least as far as standardized testing is concerned.
The charter sector they envision is one where authorizers no longer carefully screen charter operators prior to issuing a charter, and they no longer shut down schools based on the results of test scores. The free market guarantees quality control: if the customers are happy, the school stays open. If enough families desert it, it runs out of money and closes.
But this would ultimately do a disservice to students, regardless of how much they and their families liked their schools.
Schools are first and foremost places of learning. If we’re going to spend taxpayers’ money on them, we need objective evidence that students are learning.
Of course, test scores should not be the only relevant factor in determining the success or failure of a school, and no good charter authorizer judges schools on test scores alone.
Chester Finn, senior fellow at The Fordham Institute, explains that effective authorizers are also looking at various gauges of student growth, as well as graduation rates, pupil and teacher attendance and persistence, and more (e.g., Advanced Placement scores, dual credit results, where kids go to high school after leaving the charter middle school, etc.). Good authorizers also do site visits and pay attention to school climate.
We need authorizers who investigate charter operators prior to allowing them to open schools, then conduct in-depth evaluations of schools based on a variety of factors, including test scores, and finally close or replace those whose students are falling far behind.
Not all parents have the ability to assess schools, and those parents trust regulating bodies to ensure that the schools available to their children are high quality. Parents and students have a right to choice, but we need to make certain that they choose from a selection of effective schools.
In 21st century school systems, we need well-authorized charter sectors in which strong authorizers scrutinize charter operators, shut down failing schools, and invite successful schools to replicate, so we have no doubt that our students are learning. Otherwise, we’re simply replacing one failing school system with another