PAR identifies best practices for charter schools
The Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) today released an in-depth research report identifying best practices among Louisiana charter schools that can be replicated both in traditional public schools and new charter schools. “Charter Schools in Louisiana: What Lessons Do They Have to Offer the Education Community?” describes these best practices, explains how charter schools are using them and calls for the state to take an active role in collecting and disseminating information about them to all school districts and schools.
“We know that members of the charter school community are exchanging information about these practices as they work to improve the educational achievement of their students,” said PAR President Jim Brandt. “It only makes sense for the state to get the maximum benefit from the lessons being learned in the charter schools and to share those lessons as widely as possible.”
The report finds a number of best practices that can be grouped into five categories.
- Best practices: extended school days, extended school years, Saturday programs, summer programs, non-academic activities, field trips
- Student enrichment
- Best practices: clearly defined assessment structures, mandatory tracking and analysis of data generated from assessments, intervention plans
- Data-driven instruction
- Establishing a learning environment
- Best practices: clearly defined academic expectations, clearly defined behavioral expectations, a rewards or incentive system to encourage good conduct, unity-building events, parental involvement initiatives, calm and encouraging atmosphere
- Teacher support and development
- Best practices: Informal and formal observations of classrooms, administrative and peer feedback, regularly scheduled planning periods, regularly scheduled department/grade level meetings, regularly scheduled faculty meetings, professional development
- Policy-focused governing boards
- Best practices: Formal process for selecting new board members, diversity of skills among board members, clearly defined process for evaluating school leader, succession planning, formal board training
All of these best practices can be replicated in both traditional public schools and new charter schools, but they are labor-intensive and require a significant amount of organization and preparation before they can be implemented. In general, Louisiana’s charter schools are better positioned to implement them because of their autonomy and flexibility. It is not impossible for traditional public schools to do the same thing, however. For example, the Recovery School District already has begun to implement a number of the best practices described here in its traditional, public schools.
The problem is that information about these practices tends to be exchanged primarily among those in the charter school community. At the same time, local school districts generally are suspicious of, if not hostile toward, charter schools. That makes it difficult to engage in a public dialogue about which practices are working well and which lend themselves to replication in traditional public schools. In light of this, PAR makes the following recommendation:
Recommendation 1: The state Department of Education should create an advisory council to conduct ongoing analysis of best practices in Louisiana charter schools that can be replicated in traditional public schools and help develop guidelines for how these best practices might be implemented. Further, the council should prepare an annual report for dissemination among all local school districts.
The data also showed some areas of ongoing concern for charter schools, including funding, facilities, community outreach and transparency. Transparency, in particular, is a concern because it refers to the ease with which the public can access information about existing and proposed charter schools. Unfortunately, the charter school landscape in Louisiana remains difficult for many parents to navigate. Therefore, PAR has two recommendations to enhance the transparency of charter schools:
Recommendation 2: The state Department of Education should maintain a Web site with an accurate and easily accessible inventory of charter schools statewide, along with copies of their charters, amendments to those charters, the process for third-year performance evaluations and for charter renewals, and summary budget documents to ensure maximum transparency in the expenditure of public dollars. In addition, the Web site should provide links to all of the charter schools’ Web sites.
Recommendation 3: State law should require each charter school to have a Web site that provides such information as the school’s physical address, phone number and name of a specific contact person; a list of administrators, faculty and staff, and their work contact information; a list of governing board members, and the time and place of all of their meetings for the school year; and the agendas for all board meetings so that parents and other interested parties will know ahead of time what is to be discussed. In addition, each school should provide a clear explanation of its admission requirements, if there are any, and a step-by-step explanation of how to register.
The charter school experiment is just underway in New Orleans and in the state as a whole. The early indications are that it is succeeding in bringing student achievement up, but more time is needed. PAR’s research has identified some best practices that can help increase the chances for success among Louisiana’s charter schools. Further, these best practices do not have to be unique to charter schools; they can be implemented in any school and in any district willing to try new ideas.
“The state should take advantage of this opportunity and of growing public support to encourage all public schools to adopt those best practices that might work for them,” said Brandt.
Karen M. Rowley, Ph.D., special projects manager, is the primary author of this report. Funding for this research was provided by Baptist Community Ministries, Community Coffee Fund, Keller Family Foundation and Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation. For additional information or to download a copy of the report, go to PAR’s Web site at www.la-par.org.