Why Charter Schools Close and Why That's a Good Thing

One common criticism of charter schools is that they lack accountability and that poorly performing schools continue to operate, letting down students and parents. A new report suggests that this criticism is unfounded. Instead, charter schools may actually have a surprisingly impressive level of accountability.

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Closing Their Doors

The Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based advocate for charter schools, released a report in December that represents one of the first comprehensive analyses of charter schools that have closed in the last two decades. The report, which is known as 'The State of Charter Schools,' states that approximately 6,700 charter schools have opened in the United States. Since 1992, 1,036 of those charter schools have closed. An additional 500 schools that received a charter either failed to open in the first place or were consolidated back into their original districts.

Behind the Closings

The most common reasons charter schools close, accounting for 41.7% of closures, are financial problems. These typically stem from low enrollment or a gap in funding. An additional 24% close for mismanagement. This is often an ethical problem with an administrator or sponsor, such as misusing funds, misrepresenting data or breaching the charter's contract.

Poor academic performance accounts for nearly 19% of closings. While less immediately quantifiable than financial or management problems, academic problems mean that students aren't being effectively educated. Other reasons charter schools close are obstacles with their facilities or district. These are rare occurrences, representing approximately 11% of the closings.

Countering Criticism

Advocates for charter schools point to the fact that 15% of charter schools close as evidence of the system's success. Conventional public schools very rarely close, certainly at a rate far less than 15%. Critics may counter that if charter schools were better run, with greater ongoing accountability and organization, then they wouldn't need to close at such a high rate. But it's difficult to deny that conventional public schools suffer through mismanagement and poor performance without shutting down.

Furthermore, charter schools function at the mercy of the community. If they don't present themselves as appealing to families, then families won't enroll and they'll lose funding, which is ultimately followed by closure. Even if charter schools draw families to enroll, but subsequently disappoint them, families can transfer students back to their conventional schools.

No one is required to attend a charter school. This is a notable distinction over conventional public schools. No student is bound to attend the charter school down the street because it's down the street and he or she can't afford to go to a private school. Charter schools bring choice to the education marketplace and, like the for-profit business world, if consumers aren't impressed, then they go out of business.

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