Bring on the Charter Schools

As the No Child Left Behind Act matures, it appears that at least a few low-performing schools will be put up for a bid. In Colorado’s first forced conversion of a low-performing public school to charter status, the state board of education has directed the Denver school district to hand over its lowest-performing middle school to the nonprofit Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP. Rival proposals for the Denver charter came from two for-profit education management organizations with experience in taking over failing schools: Edison Schools Inc. and Mosaica Education, both based in New York City. A Denver parents’ group called Padres Unidos had submitted a fourth plan proposing to replicate a locally operated charter school in Pueblo, Colo., called Cesar Chavez Academy. Nationally, the conversion of Denver’s Cole Middle School marks one of the first times that a state has compelled a district to convert a failing school to charter status. Observers elsewhere are watching in part because the federal No Child Left Behind Act identifies conversion to charter status as one of five approaches states can take to turn around schools that repeatedly fail to make the grade. Like all forced conversions and government-mandated solutions, charter-school conversions will only work based on the free movement of students between schools and the local school district’s right to end contracts with low-performing charter schools. However, this development is a big step forward from years of coddling low-performing schools with extra resources despite zero improvement in student educational outcomes.