Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education addressed the charter school conference today through a web link. In his opening remarks, Duncan repeatedly chastised charter school leaders for not taking a firmer stance against low-performing public charter schools. Duncan reminded attendees that at last year’s conference in Washington, D.C. he issued a challenge to charter school leaders to vocally oppose bad charter schools. He said that charter schools are vulnerable to criticisms when it is not policing itself and warned that if the charter school movement didn’t police itself, others would step in. Duncan said, “I strongly, strongly urge this movement to step in and close that void.”
Duncan also reiterated several of the common misperceptions about public charter schools and challenged the charter school community to address the criticisms that charter schools cream the best students, don’t serve the same percentage of special needs students and are seen as the problem instead of the solution.
The Secretary responded to questions posed by audience members. Duncan was pointedly asked what his administration’s response would be to the proposed cuts to charter school funds that Rep. Obey introduced yesterday. He vaguely stated that “this ball game isn’t over yet” and said they were in “an active conversation with Congress.” Duncan said there were other options without sacrificing their reform agenda.
Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ board president, Caprice Young, told Sec. Duncan that they would provide him with a list of the low-performing charter schools state charter school associations worked to close during the past year. Duncan contended that the charter school community needed to do more than just verbally agree with the principle that only good charter schools should be open. He said that the charter school community has not been policing its own. He pointed out that of the lowest performing public schools being targeted for turnaround, 200 of the 5,000 lowest schools are public charter schools.