Tennessee’s charter school sector is one of the “healthiest” in the nation, despite having one of the worst charter laws, according to a new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
The report ranked the health of the public charter school movement by growth, academic outcomes, and innovations such as longer school years.
The report’s authors attribute Tennessee’s charter school movement’s success to authorizers for Shelby County Schools’ and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools’ and the state-run Achievement School District, all of which authorize most charter schools in the state.Those authorizers are more “finicky” in authorizing charters operators than authorizers in other states, said Todd Ziebarth, the senior vice present of state advocacy and support for the organization.“You see these authorizers doing a good job in terms of being very rigorous in the front end of who they approve,” Ziebarth said.The report focused on the 26 states that participated in a Stanford University study of charter schools and had at least one percent of public school students attend charters in 2013-14. The Stanford study provided the Alliance for Public Charter Schools with schools’ academic outcomes.Since 2010, the Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an advocacy group, has ranked charter laws based on their alignment with a model law that requires accountability for charter schools and allows for their proliferation.The report released Wednesday compared the health of the charter movement in the 26 states surveyed to the strength of their charter laws. The authors found that although states with higher-ranked public charter school laws typically had high rankings for “health,” Tennessee was an exception. Tennessee’s charter law ranks 35th out of 43 laws (seven states have no laws pertaining to charter schools), but 9th out of the 26 states surveyed for the report about the health of the charter movement.The report’s authors commended Tennessee for opening most of its charter schools in “non-suburban areas” where students are underserved, for charter students’ academic growth, and for the sector’s growth. The number of charters in the state increased by 57 schools, or 27 percent, between 2009 and 2013.But the report’s authors criticized Tennessee’s charter school law for its provisions allowing only local school districts and the Achievement School District to serve as authorizers. That limits growth and provides “insufficient autonomy and accountability and inequitable funding to charters,” the report said.The report was based on the charter school law for the 2013-2014 school year. Tennessee’s State Board of Education can now also authorize charter schools.