"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Charter Schools: No Oversight to Be Seen

Accountability for public schools? Required.

Accountability for the corporate charter schools? Gets in the way of innovation.

Here is a nice piece on the tip of the iceberg that we can see. If public school administrators even suggested that public schools operate with such obvious lack of oversight, they would be run out on town on a rail.

What will it take to wake up the electorate? More insightful pieces like this one by Emily Alpert:

Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007 | Spending scandals brought down Children's Conservation Academy, a City Heights charter school shuttered in 2007, only two years after it opened. A year earlier, A. Phillip Randolph Leadership Academy dissolved, with questions swirling around its finances. Its closure echoed that of Jola Community Charter School, a girls' charter that sunk two months after opening in 2005.

These schools and two other closed charters owe more than $300,000 to San Diego Unified School District in unpaid fees and property taxes. None have repaid the district. School staff doubts they ever will.

Charter schools are intended to enjoy greater flexibility, but also greater accountability, a trade-off meant to spur creativity and experimentation. School districts can revoke a school's charter or refuse to renew it if the school strays from its charter, a document that lays out the expectations and governance of each unique school.

But while charters can be snuffed, ending experiments gone wrong, the closures aren't painless. In San Diego, shuttered charters still owe thousands to the school district and the state in unpaid fees. Public schools rarely recover those funds unless a charter director is prosecuted for a crime, such as fraud, and forced to repay the district. Ordinary debts go unpaid.

Nor does closure -- or the threat of it -- guarantee accountability, critics say. When fiscal problems crop up, district staffers say they lack the power to halt misspending, and don't learn about issues until it's too late. Closure is both a last resort, they say, and their only resort.

"Nobody's monitoring charter schools that closely," said Andrea Niehaus, the district's director of audits and investigations. She recently asked to hire another auditor for her seven-person office, to specialize in charter schools. "They don't keep the same documents. We can't even see how they're taking attendance -- and that's how schools are funded. We have no way of knowing."

"It's very disturbing," Niehaus said. "I don't see anyone doing any real oversight."

Closures also have an emotional cost. Shut-downs are sometimes abrupt, with little advance notice for parents, stranded children, and even teachers, who scramble to find jobs long after most schools have hired. When Randolph Leadership Academy in San Diego dissolved, some graduates found their diplomas had gone void because the school never sought accreditation, said Peter Rivera, program manager in the district's Office of School Choice. Others couldn't retrieve transcripts to prove they had attended. . . .

Read the rest here.

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