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For release: January 31, 2005
Contact: Dan Gerstein, (202) 746-4643

Taps Task Force on Quality and Accountability to chart common course toward expansion and excellence

WASHINGTON -- The newly formed Charter School Leadership Council (CSLC) today announced an ambitious first-year agenda to focus the national charter movement on the dual goals of growth and quality, starting with the appointment of a high-level Task Force on Quality and Accountability to help raise the bar of charter school performance.

Council Chairman Howard Fuller said CSLC was launching its campaign at a critical moment for charter schools, which are independently run, publicly financed, and publicly accountable. After a decade of steady growth and positive results, the movement is facing serious challenges on many fronts: persistent inequities in funding and arbitrary caps on growth, intensified opposition from defenders of the status quo, and ongoing questions about academic performance, which have created doubts about the efficacy of the charter model.

"The Charter School Leadership Council was formed to bring our large and diverse movement together to find practical answers to those pressing challenges," Fuller said. "In doing so, we cannot afford to dismiss, deflect, or deny every criticism that comes our way. We must address whatever doubts exist fully and directly, especially when the concerns are valid. That means as we rightly celebrate our many successes and accomplishments, we must also abide by our movementŐs own ideal of accountability and take responsibility for our failures."

Fuller said the campaign's immediate objective was to spark a more informed discussion of charter school performance. Toward that end, the CSLC today released a comprehensive review of charter achievement research, covering 38 studies from the past five years. Twenty-one of those studies looked at how charter students' test scores changed over time compared to students in nearby traditional public schools, widely considered the best way to measure school performance.

The report's author, education researcher Bryan Hassel, noted that while more research was clearly needed to draw definitive conclusions, the 21 change-based studies provided "encouraging" news:

  • Nine found that overall gains in charter schools were larger than those in traditional public schools
  • Three found charter schools' gains higher in certain significant categories of schools, such as elementary schools, high schools, or schools serving at risk students
  • Five found comparable gains in charter and district schools
  • Only three found that charter schools' overall gains lagged behind

"The Hassel report has done the charter movement a valuable service by providing a much more complete picture of charter performance than we have gotten from recent highly publicized studies," CSLC President Nelson Smith said. "It affirms that most charters are doing well, though not as well as we want. But it also shows that there is a lot more we need to know in order to build on our strengths and address our weaknesses."

To help meet that challenge, CSLC's new Quality and Accountability Task Force will be charged with developing an action plan for quality growth over the next six months. While the task force membership is still being finalized, Smith said several nationally-recognized charter school operators and distinguished education reform experts have already agreed to serve, including: Yvonne Chan of the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in Los Angeles; Mike Feinberg founder of Houston's KIPP Academy (and a CSLC board member); Norman Atkins, co-founder of the North Star Academy in Newark, NJ; and Ross Weiner, Principal Partner at the Education Trust.

"We want to leverage the experience and knowledge of the best people in this field to help us define and measure quality, identify the major barriers to it, and determine the best ways to promote and reward excellence as we spur expansion in the charter movement" Smith said.

As the Task Force goes about its work, Smith said CSLC will be working on several priority areas, including telling the charter story more effectively through the experience of charter parents, founders, and teachers; building the movement's infrastructure so that every charter school has access to the services it needs; and representing the movement with a credible, unified voice on policy. In that area, initiatives are already underway to develop recommendations on implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act and the federal Charter Schools Program.

"But that is just the beginning of our agenda," Fuller noted. "Over the coming years we intend to be an active and faithful force for change, and for the ideals that drive our movement: innovation, freedom, responsibility, excellence, and the promise of public education."

"Our ultimate goal is to make this revolutionary idea a central, permanent part of our public education system and harness the true potential of charter schools to meet the growing demand from parents and students for more high-quality, highly-accountability educational options."