Monday, January 14, 2008

The lack of charter school accountability -- and does competition actually improve public education?

Today, the Daily News runs both an editorial and an oped, excoriating the State Comptroller for auditing charter schools, and supporting the charter schools' lawsuit in trying to block further audits. Here’s an excerpt from the editorial:

“Charter schools are more accountable than most parts of government. They answer to two layers of state regulation, and they must shut down if they don't meet educational goals within five years - a standard we'd love to see applied to the rest of the educational establishment.”

I would bet fewer charter schools have been closed down in NYC in recent years than regular public schools – and not because they’ve all been successful. In reality, they operate with very little supervision.

I recommend that if people took a look at the Comptroller’s Sept. audit, they’d realize how unaccountable many charter schools have been – and how lax both SED and DOE have been in terms of oversight. Amazing to me that any major media outlet would oppose strict accountability in the use of taxpayer funds in this way.

Despite the fact that all charter schools are required to report annually on their progress towards meeting the educational goals established when they were founded, and DOE is supposed to closely monitor their progress in achieving these goals, according to the audit, none of this has occurred.

The original goals and any information about progress made towards meeting these goals are supposed to be included on in the schools’ annual reports. Yet the DOE could provide only 10 of the 23 annual reports of the charter schools under its purview, and the Comptroller’s office obtained one more report from SED.

Of these 11, not one of them contained all the information required by state law, and more than half either omitted certain goals, misstated them, or did not discuss the progress made towards them. The audit found that the DOE had no formal process for reviewing these reports, no written records of the same, and no records of their decision-making process in approving the original applications of charter schools or calling for their renewals.

Nor were there any procedures or plans in place to call for improvements in their performance, or a corrective plan if there was failure. DOE also kept no records of the visits made to charter schools before approving the renewal of their charters. Not surprisingly, DOE recommended the renewal of all the charters in every case, for the maximum period of five years.

It sure doesn’t sound that there was real accountability here – as the Daily News editorial insists – or any evidence that any of these charter schools were “shut down if they don't meet educational goals within five years" – especially as DOE appeared to be ignorant of what their goals were.

Instead of criticizing the audit, if the editors of the Daily News really cared about accountability, they would be applauding the state Comptroller and criticizing the charter schools for suing to block them.

But there has long been a double-standard when it comes to charter schools; see the response of Chester Finn, for example, to the other recent audit which found KIPP using funds to send teachers on junkets to the Caribbean:

"I think they should be able to fly around the world in first class if administrators think that will keep up the good results."

Meanwhile, according to today's NY Sun, Sol Stern and some other conservatives are moving away from the idea that market incentives and competition (like more charter schools) will solve all the problems of public education– perhaps in part influenced by the failures here in NYC, where this administration has adopted this sort of market-driven ideology with a vengeance.

“There's a growing consensus that a market approach alone is not enough," the president of the Albany-based Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, Tom Carroll, said. He added: "There's a need for a moment of reflection."

It was never clear to me why competition would be expected to work to improve the public school system. Here in NYC, there has always been a healthy system of competition from parochial and private schools, and rather than improving the public schools, it has been a way for the business and opinion elite and many members of the middle class to escape sending their kids to public schools, which has considerably diminished political pressure towards improving them.

If Bloomberg, Klein et al and their cronies on Wall St, as well as the editors of the NY Times and the Daily News, had children who actually attended NYC public schools, I’m convinced there would have been smaller classes years ago.

1 comment:

NYC Educator said...

I like your observation about those who control the system not patronizing it. One of my favorite colleagues is a right-wing social studies teacher. We agree on almost nothing, but one day he suggested if the politicians were required to send their kids to public schools, we'd see instant improvement. I can't help but agree.