Charter schools should be required to “back-fill” their “empty seats,” argues a Wall Street Journal op-ed. It’s aimed at New York City’s Success Academy network, which posts very high scores, but doesn’t replace students who leave.
Backfill mandates are a backhanded way to kill school autonomy, responds Mike Petrilli on Education Gadfly.
Some charters let new students start only at a designated entry point, such as kindergarten, sixth grade or ninth grade. As the unengaged leave, the remaining students are almost certainly more motivated and probably higher performing.
It’s unfair to compare a school with only the motivated to a school where students are coming and going, Petrilli concedes. So, stop comparing.
. . . there are strong instructional arguments for not backfilling. Great schools spend a lot of time building strong cultures—the almost-invisible expectations, norms, and habits that come to permeate the environment, such as the notion that it’s cool to be smart and it’s not OK to disrupt learning. Culture-building is a whole lot harder to do if a school is inducting a new group of students every year in every grade.
Furthermore, schools that help their charges make rapid gains in their early years will be forced to spend a lot of time remediating new students who enter midstream. That’s why so many solid charters and networks that launch as middle or high schools eventually reach down to start serving students at age four, five, or six. It’s hard to remediate a kid who has already gone through half a dozen years of learning nothing in a dire school.
. . . When we force charters to backfill, or adopt uniform discipline policies, or mimic district schools’ approach to special education, we turn them into the very things they were intended to replace.
Districts could protect some of their schools, such as magnets, from “backfill”churn, Petrilli suggests.