The Center for Education Reform releases 2012 charter school law guide

4 Apr

Increasingly, charter schools are one education option for many families.

What is a Charter?

There are several definitions of charter school but this definition from Education Week seems to capture the essence of what it means to be a charter.

According to the U.S. Charter Organization the reasons individuals seek to set-up a charter school are: 

The intention of most charter school legislation is to:

·         Increase opportunities for learning and access to quality education for all students

·         Create choice for parents and students within the public school system

·         Provide a system of accountability for results in public education

·         Encourage innovative teaching practices

·         Create new professional opportunities for teachers

·         Encourage community and parent involvement in public education

·         Leverage improved public education broadly

People establish charter schools for a variety of reasons. The founders generally fall into three groups: grassroots organizations of parents, teachers and community members; entrepreneurs; or existing schools converting to charter status. According to the first-year report of the National Study of Charter Schools, the three reasons most often cited to create a charter school are to:

·         Realize an educational vision

·         Gain autonomy

·         Serve a special population

Parents and teachers choose charter schools primarily for educational reasons–high academic standards, small class size, innovative approaches, or educational philosophies in line with their own. Some also have chosen charter schools for their small size and associated safety (charter schools serve an average of 250 students).

As with any option, there are pros and cons.

Business Week has a concise debate about the pros and cons of charter schools featuring Jay P. Greene, University of Arkansas; Manhattan Institute arguing the pro position and Jeffrey Henig, Columbia University arguing against charter schools. The Education Commission of the States succinctly lists the pros and cons of charter schools 


According to proponents:

·         Charter schools present students and parents with an increasingly diverse array of education options.

·         The competition provided by charter schools forces school districts to improve the performance of their schools in order to attract and retain students and dollars.

·         If managed properly, charter schools serve as laboratories for education experimentation and innovation. The easing of certain regulations can free teachers and administrators to develop and implement new learning strategies.

·         Increased accountability for charter schools means that schools have to perform or risk closure. This extra incentive demands results.


According to opponents:

·         Because charter schools operate as a business, as well as a learning institution, they are subject to market forces that may eventually force them to close, depriving students of a continuous education.

·         Charter schools sometimes segregate students along racial and class lines and fail to adequately serve students with disabilities or limited English proficiency.

·         Accountability for student performance is difficult to measure and enforce in the burgeoning charter school movement. The usual complications of accurate student measurement are compounded by the often-conflicting demands of the state government’s need for accountability and the marketplace’s desire for opportunity.

·         The emergence of education management organizations as proprietors of charter schools creates “pseudo-school districts” in which decisions are made far removed from the school.

The Center for Education Reform (Center) has been publishing information about charter schools for the past several years. They have just released the 2012 report.

Here is the press release from the Center:

CER Press Release
Washington, DC
April 2, 2012

The wide variations in charter school laws state by state average out to a grade in need of improvement, according to The Essential Guide to Charter School Law by the Center for Education Reform. In its 13th annual analysis of laws across the states, CER, the leading advocate for substantive and structural change in US education, documents the conditions for effective laws that support the growth and success of these proven models of public schooling.

Charter schools — public schools, open by choice, accountable for results and free from most rules and regulations that stifle progress in traditional schools — are permitted in 41 states and the District of Columbia, and yet the conditions for success in those states compromise the availability of great new public schools that parents and students most need and deserve,” said CER President Jeanne Allen. “While some state laws are still as great as intended when they were created, many states, just like schools that complain they are forced to ‘teach to the test’ rather than deliver exceptional education, have just gone through the motions, passing laws that give very little life to charter school reforms.”

The 2012 report analyzes each law against nationally recognized benchmarks that most closely dictate the impact of charter school policies on healthy, sustainable charter schools. Components such as the creation of multiple independent authorizers and fiscal equity can transform a state’s educational culture. States that do so include Washington, DC, Minnesota and Indiana. The lack of components that ensure operational freedom, equity and alternate paths to authorizing limits charter progress and often leads to contentious charter battles. States such as Virginia and Georgia are notable in this category.

The US GPA of 2.1 -a ‘C’ – on state charter school laws is a result of states having earned five A grades, nine Bs, seventeen Cs, seven Ds and four Fs. Categories ranked include: the existence of multiple independent authorizers, number of schools allowed, operational autonomy, and fiscal equity when compared to their conventional public school peers.

This should be a wake up call to everyone from reformers to the President. Just having a law is not even half the battle,” writes Allen in the report’s introduction. “Knowing how to understand a law and implement it is the most essential act anyone engaged in lawmaking will ever undertake, and this report is for and about the hundreds of local, state and national policymakers whose pens and keyboards create the laws that can transform — or erect barriers to — true educational progress for all children.”

An online press briefing on the report’s findings will be held Monday, April 2nd at 1:30p EST. The briefing can be accessed by going to

DOWNLOAD: Charter School Laws Across the States 2012 – The Essential Guide to Charter School Law

The key determinant for a successful charter school is the strength of the enabling legislation.

According to the Center’s introduction in the 2012 report:

The issue is not whether a state has a law, and has some schools. The issue is whether the law has strong permanent authorizing structures and can withstand political elections or partisan whims with regard to funding, operations and accountability.

Such laws, it turns out, are harder to create than the number of schools, today at 5,700 according to The Center’s ongoing evaluations — would suggest. The push to raise caps meant little for many states whose laws are so flawed that few new charter applications are being filed, let alone approved. Indeed, as this and previous analyses have revealed, just having a law is not even half the battle. The old adage that too many schools feel pressured to “teach the test” applies here. That pressure typically occurs in schools and among teachers that have neither the flexibility and resources to do their job well, nor the confidence to realize that when students are given the best instruction, they will do well on whatever test is administered.

Similarly, states that adopt new laws without codifying the critical flexibilities and equitable resources that the charter concept demands to be successful are simply going through the motions, checking the boxes, and allowing the charters that do get created to go forward without the critical ingredients for success.

The “Teaching to the Test” states — those, which require schools to abide robotic processes, lack of rigor and lots of bureaucracy — are the low C’s, D and F states.



The “Exceptional Delivery” states — those where schools are more likely to thrive because of the consistent delivery of strong educational practices and conditions necessary for good education — are the A’s and B’s.

That said, the high achieving states in this ranking still have a long way to go. The top three states — the District of Columbia, Minnesota and Indiana (the latter a newcomer to the top three) — are still ten or more points away from a perfect score. While they perform at a much higher level than the other states on the more important components, each state’s law presents issues that must be corrected to ensure that all charter schools in that state are well served, and thus, serve their clients — parents and students.

A final word before you turn the page and begin to review the details of each states’ ranking and the comparisons across the states. We are very aware that other evaluations exist. The most recent to enter the public policy continuum is that of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), a trusted source of much good data and collaboration among some of the heavy weights of industry, philanthropy and charter school thought leadership.

We respectfully disagree with the NAPCS methodology and approach to evaluating laws, which is entirely based on whether the law matches up to its model law. The model law was created to guide policymakers. That model has some elements that are working in the best states, and some that are not. That model has some elements that have never been fully tested. And that model is hypothetical. CER’s analysis and rankings are based on what is, what exists in law, in regulation, in administrative guidance —and how such laws and regulations work for or against charter schools. It is that existing framework of laws and regulations which must guide all who are involved in public policy analysis. It is that guide — what works in actual practice and what does not — that should inform the whole of education — from the individuals who dedicate themselves day in and day out to teaching to the institutions that regulate our schools. Unproven theory has no place here.

We invite debate and discourse on this important scorecard and analysis. And we hope you’ll recognize that no matter what your position on charter schools and the condition of laws created to start them, knowing how to understand a law and implement it is the most essential act anyone engaged in lawmaking will ever undertake.

To that end, we continue to hold ourselves and those working in pursuit of education reform to a standard that transcends generational change, political whims or even public opinion. And we continue to hold the charter school movement to a standard that was set by its founders — the creation of truly autonomous, equitably supported, independent public schools open by choice and accountable for results that are guided and operated by people with connections to the communities they serve. Whether organic, one-up schools, managed by tax-paying or nonprofit agencies, hybrid or [made of building material, charter schools that succeed do so first and foremost because of the laws that enable them.

To understand this more fully, we encourage you to read the details — albeit greatly abbreviated — of each law…

There is no magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education. There is only what works to produce academic achievement in each population of children. That is why school choice is so important.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

2 Responses to “The Center for Education Reform releases 2012 charter school law guide”


  1. National Education Policy Center study study compares spending by charters and public schools « drwilda - May 7, 2012

    […] The Center for Education Reform releases 2012 charter school law guide                                                     … […]

  2. A charter school for young entrepreneuers shows the diversity of charters | drwilda - May 16, 2013

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