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Should the bar be higher for charter schools?

June 1, 2010

State education officials discussed the future of the Highlander Charter School in Providence today, which is seeking renewal of its five-year charter. The K-8th grade school has made steady improvements in middle school test scores and outperforms many Providence public schools, but the state Department of Education has raised concerns about elementary performance, which dipped slightly below the district average in reading last year. Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said charter schools should do better than meet or slightly exceed average scores in districts like Providence.

“We gave to remember our goals,” Gist said. “We have high, ambitious goals for the state, and the bar we are setting is higher than the Providence Public School District.”

Many parents are not happy with the recommendation, which comes up for a vote at the state Board of Education later this week.

“I can’t understand why you would close a school that is one of the best in Providence,” said one parent at the meeting.

Some members of the state Board of Education shared that concern, noting that it raises questions about what standards charter schools are held to.

“This is the highest performing open-enrollment middle school in Providence,” said Regent Angus Davis, who said he doesn’t believe the data supports revoking the school’s charter. Davis and others expressed concern that the state has never clearly articulated expectations for charter schools. Board Chair Robert Flanders said granting the one-year extension to Highlander would give the board more time to consider what bar should be set for charter school renewal.

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