Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Comments urging the state to reject the application of Flex charter school

For an article from last fall pointing out other conflict of interest issues with this charter school proposal, check out Helen Zelon's piece for City Limits, Pedagogy and Profits.  You can also check out my longer comments, complete with links and citations here.  

UPDATE: See this article at DNA info about growing opposition from parents and elected officials to Flex charter school, and how the NY State Education Dept,. responsible for deciding whether to approve it, did not even show up at the mandated hearings.

Cliff Chuang, Director,Charter School Office, NYS Education Department
by email at CharterSchools@mail.nysed.gov
Dear Mr. Chuang:  I was unable to attend the “Flex” charter authorization hearings yesterday as there were important budget hearings at the City Council that lasted well into the evening.  My comments on the application are below and attached.
As you can see, I strongly urge the NYS Education Department and the Regents not to authorize this charter school, based upon the following five points:
  • Flex intends to contract with K12 Inc. for curriculum, instruction, assessments and other services.  K12 Inc. is the largest for-profit online charter chain in the nation, and has a poor record of results, as evidenced in a national study from respected researchers, and also in a major expose published in Business Week last week.  In general, online learning for grades K-12 has little or no backing in the research.
  • It is clear from their disclosure forms that prospective Flex board members were handpicked by K12 Inc. executives, a practice frowned upon by experts who promote greater charter accountability, including Greg Richmond, head of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
  •  There are additional potential conflicts of interest in this application that cannot be ignored.  The prospective board members claim that the school will have no contractual relationship with K12 Inc., apparently to evade the new state law that bans new charters managed by for-profit operations.  At the same time, they write in their disclosure forms that for this reason, they do not have to reveal any financial interest in K12 Inc. or personal or financial relationship with the company and its employees. 
This claim is hard to justify, since at the same time, they admit that the school will pay K12 Inc. an annual per student fee of more than $1000 per year.  If this application was approved, it could open the door to any for-profit operation opening a charter in NY State, with a hand-picked board whose members could receive substantial funds in return for funneling public funds to the for-profit operation, while disclaiming any responsibility to disclose their financial relationships.
  •   Unresolved problems related to the digital divide are also evident in the charter school’s application, and students who attend Flex will be severely disadvantaged if they have no access to the internet or computers to access their homework or lessons from home.
  •  The Flex application shows little or no outreach to the community and no evidence of community support, which is required by the new state law.
Finally, please let me know what the timeline is for public comment and for the authorization process.  There is no information on the NYSED website that I can find about the timeline and no explicit outreach to parents and other community members soliciting their views on this or any other particular charter school application.
I urge you to post such information on your website as soon as possible.
Thanks for your consideration,
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters

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