Jonathan Cetel is the founding executive director of PennCAN. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Here at PennCAN we were happy to hear about the National Association of Charter School Authorizers’ new push to close low-performing charter schools and open great new ones. The goal of NACSA’s One Million Lives campaign, announced last week, is to enroll one million more children in high-performing charter schools over the next five years. Accomplishing that goal, NACSA argues, will require charter school authorizers to “lead the way in closing failing charter schools and opening many more excellent ones.”

Thanks to the attention generated by the success of the nation’s best charter schools, such as KIPP and Achievement First, the push by prominent philanthropists, and the efforts of lawmakers including President Obama, Governor Jeb Bush, and NYC Mayor Bloomberg, charter schools have grown significantly in the past decade.  Today there are 5,600 charters serving approximately two million students nationwide.   

However, it has proven easier to open new schools than to hold low-performing schools accountable by shutting them down. In 2010-2011, less than seven percent of charter schools were closed nationwide, even though many of these schools are failing to perform at high levels. In Philadelphia, only three charter schools out of 80 lost their bids to renew their charters in 2011, despite the fact that many more charters than those 3 are failing to prepare Philadelphia’s students for academic success.

The core value of the charter movement has always been more autonomy in exchange for more accountability, but many charter schools are not held accountable for its performance, and their students suffer as a result. NACSA’s One Million Lives campaign refocuses our efforts on building a movement committed to making sure that only the schools making a true difference for their students thrive.

So how does Pennsylvania’s charter system move towards a culture of accountability? For starters, we need to improve the way we authorize charters. We must reform our outdated charter school law and create an independent statewide authorizer to take on the responsibilities that overburdened school districts are currently charged with: overseeing charter school performance and ensuring that students are getting a great education.

Any school – charter or district – that persistently fails to produce outcomes for kids should be shut down. Period. 

On behalf of PennCAN, I am excited to formally pledge our support to the National Association of Charter School Authorizer’s One Million Lives Campaign. I hope you join me.  


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