With the number of failing schools in the United States growing rapidly each year, a conference including representatives of charter management organizations (“CMOs”), government officials, school districts and other authorizing entities cited a shortage of qualified charter management organizations as one of the key issues in the drive to turn these schools around.

               “While numerous states are forming various types of “turnaround districts,” there is insufficient focus on the supply of CMOs, both prepared and ready to take on this challenge,” a summary report of the conference states. “Currently, the demand for charter-led turnarounds exceeds the supply of organizations able to perform them.  Policy makers and authorizers should consider how to establish a timeline and resources to support a turnaround incubator to help develop local CMOs and other homegrown locally-based solutions.”

  Community engagement was another key issue for the conference, with the conference summary pointing to the need for engagement to begin before the CMO match is announced: “CMOs must take the time to engage the entire community when communicating their vision for the future and incorporate community input into development of the plan.”

The conference also focused on accountability, feeling strongly that, when taking over a school whose students are starting with a large educational deficit, achievement should be measured, at least initially, by growth rather than proficiency, with proficiency used more in later years to measure the impact of the intervention.

 Other key issues included enrollment, which typically drops in the first year of a turnaround, and thus affects the schools initial funding, and special education, where small CMOs may need to pool resources to be able to provide a full range of services.  A full copy of the conference summary can be found at Conference Summary Brief 031416 FINAL.pdf?dl=0.

 The conference was organized by Matchbook Learning, Charter School Growth Fund, Achievement First Charter Network Accelerator and Rayer & Associates and was sponsored by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.  Held in Philadelphia in November, it included more than 150 participants from around the country.

Sajan George, CEO of Matchbook Learning, said: “Clearly, we need scalable solutions that can be customized and adapted for use in multiple communities.  We need to give communities and educators the tools they need to perform successful school turnarounds.”