by Georgia Charter Schools Association
By Lisa McDonald
Flexibility in exchange for accountability is the crux of the charter school movement. For years charters have gladly accepted the challenge of more accountability by utilizing waivers that allow them to create evaluation systems and programs designed specifically for their school. Unfortunately, the advent of the new Teacher Keys Effectiveness System (TKES) for evaluating teachers has stymied locally-authorized charters’ ability to utilize the flexibility that is available to independent (Commission) charters. The new mandate not only erodes the autonomy once enjoyed by all public charters, but it creates redundancy and administrative burdens that could possibly make charters less effective and innovative.
While TKES is a strong comprehensive system for evaluating teachers, it is not necessary to utilize this tool to evaluate teachers within the charter sector. By law, charters must also have other measures in place to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction.
In order for a charter to operate, it must meet annual achievement and financial goals that are part of the charter contract. The achievement goals are simple. The charter must outperform the district and the state in State-administered achievement tests. If a charter is meeting this goal, it should be assumed that the instructional practices are effective.
In order for a charter to be renewed, it must review and negotiate new charter goals. Again, if a charter is renewed, it can be assumed that the instructional practices are effective.
I am the leader of Brighten Academy. We pride ourselves on our teacher evaluation system, which was based on our school’s mission and guiding principles; the Seven C’s (craftsmanship, curiosity, critical thinking, community, creativity, culture, and commitment). Everything we do and evaluate centers around the 7Cs and our mission.
After more than eight years of operating, we have experienced great success that culminated in us being named Georgia’s 2014 Charter School of the Year and qualifying for a facility bond for $10.5 million. We have faithfully met or exceeded our charter goals; yet we are required to implement, monitor, and train our teachers on the new TKES accountability system.
Do we need TKES to prove our teachers are effective? No—we have our charter goals for that. Do typical public schools have charter goals they have to meet? No. Do typical public schools have to apply to be renewed every five years? No.
As the independent charter schools’ autonomy and flexibility diminish, the administrative work that lies at the teachers and leaders’ feet continues to mount. It will quite possibly lead to higher teacher burnout, higher leader turnover, and lower morale. Simply put, charter leaders will have to decide to add another layer to the teacher accountability systems they created or abort the system that was designed to enhance their school’s achievement and culture in order to meet the mandated TKES accountability system.
It is my belief that successful charter schools should be able to use the flexibility that is contemplated in the Charter Schools Act and be able to implement a teacher evaluation system that works for their school, whether the charter is State Charter Schools Commission or district-authorized. Charters welcome accountability, but the State shouldn’t hamstring them by reducing their flexibility.
Lisa McDonald is the school leader of Brighten Academy, a PreK-8 public charter school located in Douglasville, GA.