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"Quality" must come before "charter"

Dan Katzir is
Managing Director, Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. He has been with the foundation since the education division formally launched in 1999. Today, Katzir oversees all aspects of the foundation's investments. He was formerly chief operating officer for Teach For America, training its national leaders in strategic planning, budgeting and personnel management. According to his bio at the Broad Foundation site, Katzir went on to serve as the first executive director of the UCLA School Management Program, a joint venture of UCLAâs Graduate School of Education and Anderson School of Management that provides executive management training to public school educators. In four years, Katzir took the program from a start-up to a $5 million, 60-person organization with offices across the country. The program provided customized executive management programs for boards of education, senior school district management, principals and teachers in large school districts. Katzir also served as the founding regional director of Sylvan Learning Systems in Los Angeles, managing 33 reading tutorial centers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

by Dan Katzir

Asking whether "charters" are a solution to Americaâs public education's woes is like asking whether medicine is a solution for illness. Only the right "type" of medicine, under the right conditions, will make a difference. But when it does, it can make all the difference in the world.

Similarly, data shows only the right type of charters â high-quality models based on proven strategies and staffed by the most effective teachers and leaders â have dramatically raised student achievement, particularly for low-income and minority students. But when charters are the right model â like KIPP, Green Dot, Aspire, Alliance for College Ready Schools, Uncommon, Achievement First, and the Success Charter Network â they have proven to be one of the most successful innovations to occur in K-12 education in the last several decades.

Yes, the Obama administration is right to use federal stimulus dollars to encourage the growth of high-quality charters. The trick will be in ensuring that federal dollars support only those state and district charter efforts in which charter authorizing is well designed, charters are held accountable according to appropriate student achievement metrics, and processes are in place to shut down low-performing charters that don't deliver significant student growth.

The elements of successful charters are well known: challenging standards, more academic learning time, strategies to attract the best and brightest teachers and principals, school leaders who are empowered to make the right hiring, firing, budgetary, curricular, instructional and school climate decisions under which students can succeed, and low central office overhead so resources actually reach children's desks.

Failure to distinguish between the outcomes of high-quality charter models and low-quality models is like assuming that the tonics and elixirs of the late 1800's are just as appropriate to "cure" cancer as the cutting edge radiation, chemotherapy and medicinal practices of today.

It's imperative that the charter movement itself â as well as federal, state and local leaders and the media â do a better job of making this "semantic" distinction. And we all need to do a better job of closing down low-performers and keeping the quality-bar high.

And the fortunate forthcoming federal support? If you'll excuse the cliché, itâs just what the doctor ordered.

— Dan Katzir
National Journal blog


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