FINALLY! U.S. OIG Issues Charter Management Problems Alert

cash-burningThe U.S. Inspector General has recognized the serious nature of the charter management problems.  The League of Women Voters has been calling for  better transparency and management oversight for several years.  Now, the federal government has joined us—-well, a part of the federal government.

It is one step toward better accountability for our tax dollars.

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Feds Give Florida Charters Big Boost

Flodollar-726881_1280rida already has over 650 charters schools which have not made a dent in the achievement gap or any other desirable goal.  Yet, the federal Department of Education awarded more charter start up money to Florida than to any other state.  This  $58,454,516 million goes to start schools, share leading practices in theory to improve educational outcomes for students in high need communities.  A three year study of previous federal startup charters in Florida, conducted by the Collaborative Assessment and Program Evaluation Services (CAPES) at the University of Florida, makes one wonder why Florida was given so much more money.  The CAPES study found no academic achievement advantage for the charters, and where differences occurred, they favored traditional public schools with similar student populations.  There were moreover, some serious problems in these federally funded schools.  When teacher attrition was compared with traditional schools, two to three times as many teachers left the charters during the school year than at regular public schools.  The impact on those children could not have been positive.  It has already been documented that teachers are more likely to leave charters due to lower salaries and lack of benefits.  To have high attrition in the middle of the year indicates something more must be happening.

There is no explanation why Florida received no funding for recognized high quality charters.  One wonders why so few of these ‘high quality’ charter management firms even operate in Florida.  Of course, there is the other obvious question about any charter.  What makes them high quality?  Is it that they too often tend to recruit more ‘promising’ students and push out those that do not live up to expectations?  Do they have substantial funding from the private sector to be able to support extended days, tutoring and behavioral services?  We read mostly from the political sector that more money does not improve quality, but in some cities like New York, it gives the appearance of quality.  It is easy to be duped by fresh paint and laptops.

 

 

Judge Supports Third Grade Opt Out Parents

justiceJudge Gievers ruled in favor of parents who claimed that their districts unfairly retained third graders solely because they did not complete the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA).  The ruling revealed gaping holes in district procedures and in law.  The arguments brought into question the reliance on the FSA to determine student competence.

 

 

 

 

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Charters: Deregulation has gone too far!

business-257880_1280In a new brief, William Mathis, head of the National Education Policy Center, argues that market based accountability for charter schools just does not work.  At first glance, Florida’s policies are better than in some states.  There are, however, some fatal flaws.

He makes the case for better oversight and regulation.  His recommendations take a national perspective and include these general process requirements:

authorizers, those who approve charter contracts, control the criteria for granting charters and the length of time charters are in effect.  Authorizers (in Florida, are the local school boards) must also specify the accountability mechanism for charters, and the state should fund oversight. 

The basic difference between Florida’s policy and this recommendation is that in Florida, districts are the authorizer of charters, but they have little control over the criteria charters must meet and little access to information about charter fiscal policies and practices.  The State legislature defines criteria for granting charters which are so broad that districts are not able to designate which charters are needed and actually are innovative.

The Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education hold the reins of power.  Thus, oversight is by design, minimal.  No one ‘close to the store’ is watching what is going on behind the scenes.  Even many charter school oversight boards have little knowledge of school practices.  The press and whistleblowers ferret out problems that fester.

The brief also addresses operational policies i.e.:

Governance including budget, admissions procedures, discipline practices, and civil rights protection should be transparent.  Annual reports and audits must be publically available and facilities must meet building codes and inspections.  Staff background checks should be required.

Again, these recommendations, on the surface, are mostly met in Florida’s charter school policies.  Annual audits are  required.  Admission lotteries for vacant seats are mandated.  Monthly budget reports are available.  What is missing?  Basically two loopholes, aa mile wide, exist.  The first problem is that there is no corrective action for fiscal mismanagement that does not reach a crisis level or for lapses in operations that impact which students enroll, retention of teachers, or suspension or dismissal of students.

The second problem is the lack of transparency that for-profit charter management firms enjoy.  Budgets of their charter schools lack the detail of where and how money is spent.  These companies control the entire budget, but financial records of for-profit privately run companies are shielded from public view.  Thus, the public has access to charter school facility costs, for example, but no access to how these costs are generated.  In some cases, it is like giving a blank check that may be nearly half of the budget without explanation of where the money ended up.

The one consolation in all of the exposure of charter mismanagement is that it is now becoming part of the public discussion about school choice.  Privitizing schools may give the appearance of facilitating innovation, but the reality is too often that it results in the loss of public trust.

Opt Out Parents Lawsuit Going Federal?

justiceThere is a new and very interesting twist to the Florida opt out lawsuit.  Parents whose children were retained in third grade solely because they did not take the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) brought a lawsuit.  Some districts retained these children who would otherwise be promoted to fourth grade and others did not.  It sounds like a basic fairness issue, but it is more complicated.  Who is responsible for this policy, the State or the federal government?  If only 16 states require third grade retention, why would the federal law be involved?

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ESSA: What does Pam Stewart think?

accounting-761599_640The U.S. Department of Education wants input to its rules to implement the Every Student Succeed Act.  State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart wrote them a letter, a long one.  In it she lists her concerns.  Her first concern had a familiar ring; under the proposed timeline, it would not be possible to implement the new rules by the beginning of the 2017-18 year.  One has to smile, Ms. Stewart is right.  She has learned from experience when district superintendents voiced similar complaints about the timeline for  implementing the Florida Student Assessment accountability measures two years ago.  Stewart’s other concerns are more problematic.

I list them below.

 

 

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