Secretary Duncan Urges Charters to Turn Around Schools, Improve Accountability
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today called on charter school leaders to become active players in the national effort to turn around low-performing schools and to take aggressive actions to ensure their schools are held accountable for student results.
“We need everyone who cares about public education to take on the toughest assignment of all – and get in the business of turning around our lowest-performing schools: that includes states, districts, nonprofits, unions and charter organizations,” Duncan said in a speech to the National Charter School Conference in Washington, DC.
Duncan urged charter school operators to join the change agents taking over low-performing schools. “Too often, charter schools take an incremental approach of starting a new school one grade at a time – an approach that is too gradual to have an immediate impact in dropout factories and other schools that are seriously underperforming,” Duncan said. The secretary has set a goal of turning around 5,000 low-performing schools.
“I have no illusions about how hard this is. I understand that we won’t be successful every time,” Duncan said. “But if we don’t try – and if we continue to tinker around the edges – another generation of kids will graduate unprepared for the future.”
The federal government will have resources to help the charter school operators, Duncan told the charter school community. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Department of Education will be making competitive grants to states under the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund and to districts and nonprofits from the $650 million What Works and Innovation Fund.
Through the ARRA and the fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010 budgets, the department will make $5 billion available to states to turn around their lowest-performing schools.
Duncan also emphasized that the charter school community needs to be responsible for holding their schools accountable.
“The charter movement is putting itself at risk by allowing too many second-rate and third-rate operators to exist,” he said. “Charter authorizers need to do a better job of holding schools accountable – or people will, by leaving.”
Specifically, Duncan praised the California Charter Schools Association for adopting accountability measures for its members.
Duncan’s speech was the third in a series of four focusing on the reform strategies states must address under the ARRA, and to qualify for funds under the Race to the Top Fund.
On June 8, he spoke to researchers convened by the Institute of Education Sciences about the importance of using data to plan and evaluate reform initiatives. On June 14, he urged state leaders to continue their efforts to adopt common standards in a speech at the Hunt Institute in North Carolina. In the speech, he promised to help states pay for the development of assessments aligned to those new standards with up to $350 million from the Race to the Top Fund.
Duncan will give his final speech in the series to the National Education Association on July 2 in San Diego.