Mississippi’s state legislature is revising a bill that, if passed into law, would allow some traditional public schools to convert to charter schools with certain limitations. Legislators have dubbed this brand of charters “innovative schools.” Here’s how they would work:
An innovative school is a type of charter school but does not divert dollars or students. The concept is simply parents taking an existing school and running it, Brown said. More than 50 percent of the parents would have to agree and the parents would elect a board to run the school.
I don’t think these charters would be as innovative as their name suggests. There are several disadvantages to the “innovative schools” model:
- “Innovative schools” would start out with their student bodies already in place. In comparison, the typical charter school has to market itself from the very beginning. An “innovative school” would face less pressure to try anything new, because students would be enrolled from the start whether it innovates or not.
- Regular charter schools are free to specialize. They can offer programs that don’t interest everyone — like language immersion or career preparation — and enroll students who formerly attended many different schools. “Innovative schools” could only form at the agreement of parents of students who attend one traditional public school. They would have to settle on a safe plan that the majority is happy with.
- Poorly performing schools would be eligible to convert to “innovative schools,” whereas other public schools would not. So, every “innovative school” would have to focus on turning around a bad situation and correcting mistakes. The need to work with multiple grade levels might compound the difficulty. “Innovative schools” could not start with one grade and build up, as many successful charters have done. It would be difficult for any school to innovate while struggling with these challenges.
Mississippi would see more innovation if it were to drop the “innovative schools” idea and instead authorize schools that are more like the charters currently found in Missouri and other states.