The report, prepared by Daniela Doyle and Tim Field for NewSchools Venture Fund, explores a variation on school closure where a charter school’s operator and governance (board) changes, while the school continues to serve the same students — charter school “restarts.” The report examines how charter restarts fit within the larger context of charter school quality and accountability and describes how restarts have played out at five charter schools. It concludes with a series of recommendations for board members and charter authorizers interested in pursuing a restart strategy.
Restarts in Failing Schools
Public Impact teamed up with New Schools for New Orleans to develop a guide for cities interested in dramatically growing their charter school sectors as part of an effort to turn around persistently low-performing urban school systems. This Guide builds on dozens of interviews with education and community leaders in New Orleans, insights from national experts who have supported the rebuilding efforts, and research and reporting on New Orleans’ education reforms. Centered around three key strategies: 1) strong governance and accountability, 2) building human capital pipelines to fuel the growth of schools and 3) incubating new schools and growing proven schools into networks, the Guide illustrates recommendations with vignettes of work done by bold school leaders and reformers. The Guide also looks toward long-term sustainability of this new system, exploring topics such as building community demand and support for school reforms, developing a fiscally-balanced system that doesn’t rely long-term on philanthropy, and planning ahead for the new types of challenges that face a decentralized system of schools in areas such as transportation, equitable access, and transparent system oversight.
Public Impact worked with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers on a series of publications specifically on “starting fresh” – the chartering and contracting options. The series includes A New Option for School District Leaders Under NCLB, which identifies the need for a new beginning at a school and describes the options of initiating a charter school or hiring an outside school manager, and Engaging Parents and the Community in Starting Fresh, which highlights strategies for bringing key stakeholders to the table.
Despite the challenges, some districts have taken the decisive step of closing low-performing schools. This paper, written by Lucy Steiner for the Center on Innovation and Improvement (ceased operation in October of 2012), discusses the lessons district officials in four urban districts learned about the school closure process. Recommendations include the need to: 1) consider school closure in the context of a larger reform effort; 2) develop a supply of higher-performing school options; 3) clearly explain to the public how current students will benefit; 4) provide support to families and students during the transition; and 5) provide staff members with clear information about next steps.
This 2003 report, co-authored by Bryan Hassel and Lucy Steiner and funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation, outlines a new approach states can use to respond to schools that continue to struggle despite interventions and accountability measures. Under the “starting fresh” strategy, the state or district essentially opens a new school within the walls of the existing schools. The report discusses why states and districts should add this approach to their toolboxes, and examines the practical challenges of implementing a starting fresh strategy.