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(This is the third in a series of posts clearing up misconceptions that opponents of school choice are spreading in the capitol and across the state.)
Charter schools in Missouri do not receive accreditation from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
That simple fact, which is designed to give charter schools more flexibility to grow innovate ways to teach and connect with students, leads to a lot of misunderstanding about how public charter schools and district schools are held accountable.
The truth is that both public charter schools and district schools are evaluated by DESE in exactly the same way, but the consequences of failure are much steeper for charter schools.
Public charter schools and district schools each take the same MAP and EOC tests. The data from those tests are evaluated in the exact same way for both public charters and district schools.
Both public charter schools and district schools report their attendance, graduation rates, and college and career readiness metrics to DESE every year.
DESE creates an Annual Performance Report (APR) score for both public charters and district schools every year (except 2018) using the exact same grading criteria. They award a final score for each learning community which, in practice, frequently means that an entire district’s worth of schools ends up being compared to a single charter school. This sometimes results in an apples to oranges comparison in scores that looks more favorable to a district than if you compared scores on a building to building level in similar neighborhoods.
So both public charter schools and district schools go through the same accountability ranking process — the only difference is in how that score is used.
APR scores are a key element (but not the only element) in DESEs accreditation process for district schools.
If a school earns 70 percent of the possible points on its APR then it is typically considered accredited. Earning over 50 percent to 70 percent is generally equivalent to provisional accreditation and 50 percent or below generally means that a district should be classified as unaccredited.
In 2017 (the last year of available building level APR data), there were 24 schools (only 5 were charter schools) with scores which should qualify them as unaccredited. Despite that, Missouri currently has no unaccredited districts.
Provisionally accredited schools in 2017 total 106 (only 16 were charter schools) and the state only had six provisionally accredited districts.
So what do those accreditation levels mean?
Not a whole lot when you get down to it.
A quick search of DESE’s website provides no information about what happens at different levels, except to note that provisional accreditation is still considered as accredited and that unaccredited school districts have to pay to send students to another district if the student would like better education. Unaccredited districts also frequently get additional funding and support from the state to try to improve their status.
Charter schools, on the other hand, face closure if they do not live up to their promise to provide a quality education.
Charter schools are authorized to operate outside of the existing district structure through their charter, a lengthy document which clearly defines their responsibilities and which must be renewed every five years. APR scores play a key role in assessing the school’s performance.
If a charter school is not providing what is required by its charter than its sponsor can, and frequently does, refuse to renew the charter.
In other words, every five years a charter school has to prove, with empirical data, that it should still exist, while district schools can languish in unaccredited or provisionally accredited status indefinitely with little to no consequences.