We're All in This Together... By Myrna Castrejon

November 22, 2010

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When the State Board of Education approved new regulations last week to trigger a process that could result in the revocation and closure of charters that show sustained academic underperformance, some charter observers were surprised that CCSA would be so publicly supportive of such a measure. For those that have followed the work of CCSA on the critical matter of academic accountability during the past few years, this development was but one more step in years of rigorous work, engaging the membership and top researchers to help identify a better set of metrics to ensure that the charter movement in California lives up to its promise of flexibility and autonomy in exchange for accountability for better outcomes. Why is accountability so important? Especially when so many charters are struggling to overcome the fiscal crisis that grips all public schools in the state but is particularly cruel on independent charters? Why a focus on accountability, when the state still lacks the best measurement systems that could make individual student growth analysis accessible? Quite simply, because our children can't wait.

As I talk to parents across the state - especially in urban areas like mine, where my son attends a stellar charter school - about the desperate need for high quality choices for their children, I am reminded anew of the urgency of our mission and why we can't fail them. For as the education blogosphere ponders whether publishing teacher effectiveness ratings hurt teachers more than it helps students, and a nation wonders if indeed it takes Superman to right public education, I know that our mission as charter schools is elegantly simple even as it is overwhelmingly difficult: to provide high quality educational choices for all children in California. What inspires me every day to stay focused on the mission, is the undeniable fact that while few were paying attention in those terms, charters as a group have once and for all proven that the achievement gap is NOT impossible to overcome; that poverty is not destiny; that children of all colors and language backgrounds can thrive when challenged by an environment where excellence permeates everything each child touches; and where immigrant children - like I once was - will not depend on an accident of geography or birth as a precondition for success.

As the membership and professional organization for the more than 900 active charter schools in California, the best role CCSA can play is to "hold up a mirror" to the movement to measure how well we are doing at realizing that vision. Our best support might well be to render a clear picture of charters' performance across the continuum - from schools that are succeeding in adding significant value to the education of the most underserved students in the state on rigorous absolute and comparative measures, to those that are struggling to meet their potential, even while serving an objectively "high performing" student population. Our greatest service might be to make each school's performance record so transparent, so clear and so tactile that we can support our schools to connect with each other and build intentional communities of practice around shared goals and challenges. In this relentless pursuit of each school's realized potential we will continue to find that experimental and entrepreneurial spirit with which charters were founded, even as we collectively rise to the challenge of accountability and accept no excuses.

To that end, we are working to improve academic performance criteria and refining enforcement mechanisms to eliminate deficiencies in current law that make it difficult to close underperforming schools. Our accountability strategy aims to provide a clear, simple and fully transparent framework that provides all charter schools with tools to examine their individual performance, and also helps present a clear picture of the performance continuum across the entire movement.

This level of transparency might feel uncomfortable at first, but we're convinced that without it, we might miss opportunities to contextualize charter successes and failures and doom ourselves to repeat mistakes unnecessarily. And we would fail to infuse our efforts with the urgency the task requires. The next few months will be challenging but exhilarating. Together, we will continue to make progress every year toward delivering on the charter promise. It's a promise our families are counting on us to keep.

To learn more about CCSA's accountability efforts, click here.

Myrna Castrejón, CCSA's Senior Vice President of Achievement and Performance Management, leads the team that works directly in support of our developing and existing member schools to accelerate the growth of high quality charters across the state. Read more about Myrna.

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