The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education is finalizing revisions to its charter school policy, which would end district sponsorship of noninstrumentality charter schools. This is a bad policy for students in Madison, particularly in light of the proposal in the governor’s budget, which allows local nonprofits to authorize charter schools without approval of the district. If both of these provisions pass, it will prevent noninstrumentality charter schools from being operated by the Madison school district.
When one thinks of charter schools in Madison, one of the first things that comes to mind is the recent proposal by the Urban League of Greater Madison to create an independent charter school, Madison Prep. If it had not been rejected, Madison Prep would have been the first noninstrumentality charter school in Madison. It would have been different from the existing instrumentality charter schools (Wright Middle School, Badger Rock Middle School and Nuestro Mundo) because it would have hired its staff and teachers independent of the district.
The freedom to hire teachers independent of the district has both negative and positive effects. One of the obvious negatives is that these teachers would likely be treated as at-will employees. This means that administrators would be able to fire them for almost any reason. Everyone can agree the additional job protection beyond state employment laws for teachers in the current district contract, when used to prevent good teachers from being fired, is good for our schools. However, additional job protection makes it more difficult to remove teachers who are not performing well in the classroom. This is not a major problem in Madison, but is a disadvantage of the current district contract.
An advantage of noninstrumentality charter schools is the ability to rework the way that they pay their teachers. This means that rather than having salaries determined primarily by education level and years teaching, schools could pay teachers in a more flexible fashion. In all likelihood, this would mean paying more experienced teachers more, but this freedom could allow them to attract more qualified or diversified teachers. For example: there is a shortage of minority teachers in Madison – a problem that many U.S. school districts face. Because noninstrumentality charter schools can pay teachers outside of the strict formula used in the district contract, they may be able to recruit more minority teachers.
Another reality for Madison is that only a little more than 50 percent of African-American males graduate from high school. As a community, we are failing these students. The question is how can we right this failure? Preventing new, innovative schools from opening based on how they hire and fire their teachers is not a likely solution – particularly in the context of Wisconsin’s budget. If the provision remains in the current budget (as seems likely) schools like Madison Prep will no longer need to be approved by school boards, instead by local nonprofits, which in turn get approved at the state level. It would further the divide between charter schools and school districts. This does not help students.
The MMSD Board of Education should accept that we, as a community, are failing a large portion of our students and should welcome options that might help our children. Ending the possibility of opening noninstrumentality charter schools is bad for students. New charter schools should be judged by whether or not they will foster student learning and make students of all ages, races and classes excited to go to school every day, not by the way that they handle teacher employment.
James Mashal (email@example.com) is a junior majoring in economics. He is also a board member of Students for Education Reform.