by Georgia Charter Schools Association
By Michael O’Sullivan
A recently released National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report ranked Georgia 22nd of 43 in how our charter school laws stack up against other states. The alliance notes the “Model Law” ranking for Georgia is six spots lower than where we were a year ago, not because we took steps backwards, but because other states advanced while we stood still.
They also gave states an overall score for the health of the charter school movement, ranking the Peach State a dismal 18th out of 26 states.
While the reports are insightful, we can get the most out of them by breaking them down and looking at their components, rather than just considering the overall rankings and scores.
When looking at the health of the charter school movement in Georgia, here’s what stands out:
There’s no way to account for the quality of charter schools opening or closing in the report. Opening bad charter schools doesn’t do our kids any good. And shutting down underperforming operators actually makes the system stronger. The key is that we’re offering quality choices for parents and students. Instead of simply looking at the raw rate of charters opening and closing we should make sure our system is structured in a way that helps great charter school operators expand, and quickly identifies bad apples and allows us to shut them down.
Traditionally in this country, minority students and those from low-income households often fall behind their white counterparts. While we appreciate the reports consideration for minority students and those from low incomes, it’s important for the diversity within charter schools reflect the diversity in the community. Georgia does a good job at this.
Our charter schools have roughly the same race and ethnicity percentages as traditional schools in Georgia. While the report suggests the numbers of racial minorities in charters should be higher, it’s more important for charter schools to support socioeconomic integration and for students to be exposed to other students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The report is most useful for what it says about Georgia’s progress in the areas of innovative practices at charters, amount of learning in reading and math, and the public school share.
On average, only 25 percent of charter schools report using proven innovations like longer school days, independent study, and school work programs. Charter school students in Georgia outperformed their traditional school counterparts in reading, but not math, and overall, only 4 percent of public school students attend charters.
The report also gives some perspective on what other states are doing.
Like it or not, Georgia students will soon be competing with students from other states in college and in the workforce. So considering how we compare to other states working to improve their education systems actually matters. Many states are striving to offer better choices to their students, yet last year, Georgia passed no laws strengthening charter schools. If we stand still, like we have in this latest ranking, we will get passed by, not just in reports, but in real-life educational skills. As other states develop and refine their laws in support of stronger education systems we must be doing the same.
School choice matters, especially when your only option is the failing school that your child is forced to attend because that’s what you’re zoned. We need laws that increase high-quality education options and access to great schools. Georgia has certainly made progress in recent years, but if we get comfortable with where we are our children will get passed by.
Michael O’Sullivan is Georgia’s state outreach director for StudentsFirst