As I've indicated on previous occasions, I am a strong supporter of charter schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said on numerous occasions, "I don't support charter schools, I support good charter schools." I, too, support only good charter schools.
There are many different kinds of charter schools. How does one know if an individual charter school meets the standards of a "good" charter school? It is difficult, and one does have to pay attention to several major characteristics:
• Read the charter carefully to determine if its mission and goals are consistent with what you expect or want for your child.
• Review the qualifications of the "Committee to Form" or the board itself, if it is already established, to determine if it is going to be a strong, independent policy body capable of establishing and implementing education policy and directing the administration of the school. There is a minimum of three licensed teachers required to be on the independent board. The remaining members should have interest in the school (parents are a good source) and/or management experience.
• Review the qualifications and background of staff - administrative, licensed teachers and unclassified staff. Determine how the staff interacts with students. Is it a traditional classroom setting? Are there online applications or hybrid operations (some online learning responsibilities and some individual teacher instructional contact)? Are there special learning environments in vocational/-
technical settings or performing arts? If special equipment is required (computers, musical instruments) be certain you know who is responsible for providing it.
• The primary focus of the charter school must be on the academic achievement of the students. The expectation is that all students are going to meet rigorous, core academic standards and the school curriculum is designed to make certain they do. Charter schools recognize that there are a variety of creative ways to meet high academic standards; but the charter schools must demonstrate student progress through published assessments.
It remains critical that these schools be high achieving, independent, fiscally responsible and managed in a way that conforms to sound and humane management principles. Their function is to help teachers teach and students learn through innovation and creativity.
Charters schools will fail if they do not have sound fiscal policies and do not focus on the welfare and fair treatment of staff, faculty, students and parents. It is up to the sponsor and the independent charter school boards to assure compliance with these principles. If they do not, the charter schools will fail. I want them to be successful.
• Eugene Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.