The overregulation of public charter schools
In this guest blog, Jeanne Allen founder of the Center for Education Reform (CER), tackles the overregulation of public charter schools. A fervent supporter of flexibility and innovation in education, Allen has been at the forefront of the education reform movement since founding CER in 1993. Below, Allen explains how a bill circulating through the Arizona State Legislature could impede that progress.
By Jeanne Allen
The just-released 17th edition of Center for Education Reform’s yearly scorecard of state charter school laws once again finds the Arizona charter law right up there at the top of the list, one of only two states (plus the District of Columbia) to receive an “A” this year.
Arizona was among the pioneers of the American charter school movement when it passed its law back in 1994, and has led the way ever since, in no small part because of its high scores in the areas of school autonomy, teacher freedom and the wide latitude it allows for freedom to innovate.
Unfortunately, there are some clouds on the horizon. A prime example of “regulatory reload” has made an appearance in this year’s session of the Arizona legislature. A remarkably successful charter community, comprised of 547 schools and serving some 180,000 students, about 30 percent of the state’s public schools total, will be seriously impacted by an ill-advised measure that opens the door for regulatory intrusion.
The measure would require an annual report accounting for every penny that a school spends, and authorizes the auditor general to “request” any additional information he may wish to see, a “request” with which the school “shall comply.”
In one move, the bill’s eight sentences of text would give the state government the ability to second guess every decision that a charter school operator may make about apportioning its resources to provide a quality education. One of the most important reasons for charter school success in Arizona and all across America is the ability to innovate, make decisions and provide quality education free of the regulatory burdens common in traditional public schools.
My greatest concern is that proposals like these are part of a pattern that’s developing in many places – a tendency for charters to begin to morph into the sort of system that they set out to disrupt. Academics call it isomorphism, a process by which once innovative organizations become more bureaucratic, risk averse and ordinary.
The record of the charter schools in Arizona over the past several years is extraordinary. Their students have outperformed the state average at virtually every grade level and subject, and have earned top scores in the nation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Ordinarily, policy makers would regard a record like that as something well worth preserving and encouraging. Instead, in this bill, legislators appear to be preparing to cripple Arizona’s charter schools. Cooler heads need to prevail, and soon.
Jeanne Allen is founder of the Center for Education Reform, an organization that aims to expand educational opportunities that lead to improved economic outcomes for all Americans, especially youth. Allen has helped lead the effort within the past 25 years to ensure that innovation, freedom and flexibility serve as the foundation of the U.S. education system. Allen is author of “The School Reform Handbook: How to Improve Your Schools,” which ignited parent-led efforts for education reform.