In my local paper, The Times, a reporter wrote a very thought-provoking two-part article (Part 1, 2) about charter schools and why they fail. While the article focused on the idea of mis-management leading to the closing of charter schools and the frenzy of activity that ensues when the hundreds of children are removed from a charter school and thrust back into the public schools they left, I felt it down-played what was to me the most interesting statistic in the piece:
According to the Center for Education Reform’s 2009 Accountability Report, of 19 charters that closed in New Jersey, 42 percent were shuttered for mismanagement, 37 percent for financial, 16 percent for academic and 5 percent for facility problems. [emphasis added]
The issues that plague charter schools are, in my opinion, easy to fix: charter school administrators should be required to attend the same training and have the same certification requirements that their peers in the public schools have – they are managing public expenditures, they should meet the same standards, period. In addition, oversight of charter schools should be greater than an established public school’s, not less, until a proven track record is established. Those two simple reforms would go a long way towards fixing what is wrong with many of our charter schools.
A few years ago, a local charter school was shuttered because they couldn’t seem to manage the “attendance problem”. It is inexplicable that a group of “educational professionals” were able to petition the state, put forward a plan, and then when given millions of dollars and responsibility for educating a few hundred children couldn’t even figure out how to report how many students were attending school each day to the state! This “challenge” befuddled them for months and persisted despite repeated warnings from the state. There were, obviously, other challenges at this school – this is but one of many failings – but since attendance translates directly into state aid, and it is arguably one of the easiest activities in running a school, this points out the failure of the vetting process used to decide who gets to start a charter school.
I work part-time at my local school district, and every year our district is audited, yet it seems that charter schools are reviewed every five years? Why are charter schools held to a lesser standard regarding financial oversight? The tw-part article mentions there are currently some 70 charter schools in New Jersey, yet the office tasked with overseeing these schools has a staff of seven – I suggest that each charter school be forced to budget for one full-time “inspector” that will be part of the oversight office at the Department of Education, and once the charter school demonstrates they are succeeding, the inspector position would come off the books of the charter school and then be replaced by a fractional inspector funded by the state.
Public school teacher unions like to hold up every failure at charter schools as an indictment against wasteful spending of precious educational dollars, but they ignore the reality that it is the failing or middling performance of many public schools that led to the creation of charter schools, and the rules that close failing charter schools are not applied to public schools. I’d like public schools to be held to the same standard charter schools are, with the same consequences for failure – I wonder how many public school teachers would agree with me? How many of their union leaders would agree with me? If not, why not?