Thursday, November 08, 2007

Holding Charter Schools Accountable

As I noted yesterday, the NY Post reports that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have decided that New York City's charter schools do not have to operate under the same accountability rules as New York City's public schools.

While all of the city's 1,224 public schools either received a report card or will receive one in the very near future based upon a complex combination of test score progress, student/parent satisfaction with the school and graduation rate, the city's 60 charter schools will not.

According to the Department of Education, charter schools cannot be judged by the same accountability rules as public schools because "they don't measure student, teacher and parent satisfaction using the same Department of Education surveys."

Even some charter school advocates say the DOE's failure to issue report cards for charters makes it look like the charter's have something to hide.

Other charter school advocates dismiss the criticism, noting that the high level of accountability built into charter school contracts serves as enough of a public record.

But if that's so, then why not hand out the DOE surveys to parents, teachers, and students at charter schools the way they were handed out at public schools and grade charters under the exact same accountability standards as the public schools?

If charter schools operators and advocates want to be taken seriously in this debate, then they need to force the DOE to issue report cards using the same ridiculous accountability measurements for charters as they used for public schools (see here for just how ridiculous the standards used are.)

Eva Moskowitz, former mayoral candidate and current charter school operator, said as much to the Post:

"There's no reason we couldn't fill [the survey] out. We'd be happy to do that," said Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Charter Network, which operates a school in Harlem. "If you were a charter-school operator and the chancellor asked you to fill out a survey, would you do it? I would.

And Merryl Tisch, vice chancellor of the state Board of Regents, noted that not issuing report cards for charters makes the whole movement look suspicious:

"I think it's a mistake not to assess them the same way public schools are assessed. "There have been charter schools that have really struggled along the way," she said. "What's wrong with letting people know that?"


While charter schools in New York City are being given a pass by city officials, Ohio officials, led by Democratic Attorney General Marc Dann and Democratic governor Ted Strickland (pictured above), are cracking down on poor quality/failing charter schools.

You see, in Ohio, any idiot who wants to operate a charter school can get one.

Republicans, friendly to charter schools, ran all the statewide offices in Ohio for a very long time and helped license tons of charters since 1998.

According to the NY Times, Ohio has over 70 groups, including universities, nonprofits and many unconventional agencies, who can authorize charter schools.

Major Republicans donors, former Ohio football stars and lots of other people with no experience or knowledge of education have been allowed to open charter schools in Ohio.

As you can imagine, many of these schools are not so good.

William Peterson, a former University of Dayton football star with no experience in school administration, opened four charter schools.

All are now in "academic emergency" and the state's attorney general is suing to close at least one of them.

Commercial companies run plenty of charter schools in Ohio as well.

The Times reports that David Brennan, an Akron industrialist and a major donor to Republican candidates, has been authorized by the state to run 30 charter schools.

Most of his 30 charters are on academic watch or academic emergency.

In 2007, the state’s school report card gave more than half of Ohio’s 328 charter schools a D or an F.

Before 2007, little oversight was done to assure that failing charters either improved or closed.

It's probable that failing charters would have continued to be given free passes by Republican officials in Ohio, but last year's election swept most of them out of office.

Corruption scandals involving stolen pension funds regulated by the former state attorney general Ken Blackwell and pay-for-play episodes involving the former governor Robert Taft helped end the GOP's decades-long reign of Ohio.

At the federal level, Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney was sentenced to 30 months in jail in the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Democrats took five out of the top six offices in the state and began exerting oversight powers upon the state's charter schools.

The NY Times reports that Attorney General Dann is suing to close down three failing charter schools and is investigating dozens of others.

According to the Times, it is the first effort by any state attorney general to close down failing charter schools.

Governor Strickland has backed Dann up in his efforts:

“Perhaps somewhere, charter schools have been implemented in a defensible manner, where they have provided quality,” he said. “But the way they’ve been implemented in Ohio has been shameful. I think charter schools have been harmful, very harmful, to Ohio students.”

Charter school advocates are not sitting still as their beloved charter school movement comes under assault. They are alleging that the attorney general's attempts to close failing charter schools are a political attack:

“These suits are the latest in a long line of Democratic assaults on the charter school program in Ohio,” said Terry Ryan, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which sponsors several Ohio charter schools. Mr. Ryan said it was hypocritical to sue failing charters without moving against Ohio’s scores of failing neighborhood schools.

The Times says that a pro-charter group is helping to pay the legal fees for the three failing charter schools that Attorney General Dann is trying to close down.

Attorney General Dann dismisses charter school proponents' criticism that he is launching a political attack against charters, saying that he simply is using oversight powers to regulate charters more vigorously than did his Republican predecessors:

“We’re already changing behavior,” he said. “If you think all the other failing charter schools aren’t trying to figure out how to improve their academic performance, you’re mistaken.”

He added, “There are some great charter schools in Ohio that fill a gap in our education system.”

Perhaps there are some great charter schools in Ohio.

But with at least half of them given D or F grades and with charter school advocates supporting all charter schools whether they are successful or not and helping to provide legal fees to keep failing charter schools opened and operating, it looks like the great ones are being swamped by the tons of bad ones.

I'm all for closing truly bad public schools.

I do not believe the 50 public schools Mayor Bloomberg is threatening to close here in New York City all deserved to be closed.

For example, PS 35 in Staten Island has 98% of students passing the math test and 86% passing the reading test, yet the school received an F from the DOE in the latest assessment.

Clearly, PS 35 should not be considered a failing school, nor should it be a candidate for closure.

I am sure, however, that there are a few schools in that list of 50 F's that have chronically bad records and ought to be closed down.

You can be sure that the charter school advocates like the folks at the Fordham Foundation will be screaming bloody murder if they are not closed down.

And yet those same charter school advocates aren't screaming bloody murder that charter schools aren't being held to the same accountability standards as public schools by the NYCDOE and they certainly aren't screaming bloody murder to have failing charter schools in Ohio shut down.

Instead charter school advocates are defending those failing charter schools and providing money for legal fees and lawyers to help keep those failing charter schools opened and operating.

As I said yesterday, all schools are created equal, but charter school seems to be just a little more equal than others.
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