Opinion: Georgia charter schools strive to perform



Charter  leader says schools live up to bargain to use flexibility to create quality education

In a guest column, Tony Roberts, president and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, says charter schools are an important facet of public education in Georgia and one that provides families both quality and choice.

The association is the membership organization for Georgia’s charter school operators and petitioners.

By Tony Roberts

The school choice community in Georgia takes the “charter bargain” seriously. Charter authorizers at both the state and local levels consistently demand increased accountability from charter schools in exchange for increased flexibility, and charter schools throughout the state continually rise to the challenge despite the existing disparities in student funding and school resources.

In recent weeks, however, several articles focusing on charter school performance in general (and virtual charter performance in particular) have raised questions about the continued relevance of the charter bargain in today's education landscape leaving many stakeholders to ask: Has the emphasis on school quality been replaced by a desire to preserve choice options, regardless of performance outcomes?

The issues underlying these questions are complex, but the actual answers are simple: quality still matters, but when it comes to setting the record straight on issues of accountability—facts matter, too. In that spirit, here are a few critical facts about virtual charter schools in Georgia:

Low performing virtual charter schools close. The State Charter Schools Commission closed one of the state's three virtual charter schools in 2018 because of consistent performance issues.

Not all virtual charter schools are struggling. Georgia Connections Academy has met state performance standards for the last two years in a row. This means the school performed at or above the state average in terms of academic performance or student growth in all grade bands served.

The state's largest virtual school is taking unprecedented action to improve student performance. Over the last two years, the governing board of Georgia Cyber Academy has leveraged its flexibility as a charter school to completely overhaul its curriculum and academic model. That level of oversight and involvement only matters because the changes implemented by the school's leadership team have produced significant and verifiable improvement.

Specifically, in 2018-19, Georgia Cyber exceeded CCRPI milestones growth targets in every grade band served for the first time in its history, and it also increased student engagement and participation by 34% (schoolwide) through the implementation of new attendance requirements.

Finally, in today’s educational environment, most people can agree that there is more than one definition of “quality.” The academic metrics used to measure performance for both charters and traditional schools have evolved as the state’s data systems have become more and more sophisticated, and all public schools now have multiple ways to demonstrate value. In the past, a school was only deemed successful if it performed at a certain level on state assessments, but state and local charter contracts now place equal value on “alternative” measures of quality such as student growth and value-added impact.

While not all “quality” charter schools look the same or perform at the same level on any given metric, they do perform. They must perform. If they don’t perform, they close. And even when that happens, charter schools play a critical role in education reform because they remind us that time is of the essence. Unlike traditional schools, charter schools must prove their worth in a few short years, and that sense of urgency is something that every school in every Georgia district should share.

After all, kids only get one chance when it comes to education. That’s why charter schools—and the charter bargain—are more relevant than ever.