Let me state this one more time: I am not against charter schools. I started my K-12 teaching career in a charter. There is an appropriate place for "choice" and "innovation" within the public school system, and there is a good case to be made that charter schools can, when properly authorized and monitored, provide beneficial educational services to a community.
It's that "when" phrase, however, that seems to create all the problems:
This takes me back a couple of years to the shenanigans of Tony Bennett, formerly of Indiana's and Florida's education departments, who resigned in disgrace when accused of altering Indiana's school grading formula to favor the outcomes for a charter school whose founder was a big Republican donor (here's an update on Bennett).
Bennett's actions, like Hansen's in Ohio, were extreme, and it was appropriate in both cases to drum them out of office. However, as I pointed out about Bennett in real time, the issue wasn't simply that he had gamed the system; it was the system itself. In effect, Bennett was comparing schools that should not have been compared, and that gave his favored charter an advantage. Even if he hadn't interfered directly, his department had set up an oversight regime that inherently favored charters.
I've seen this same behavior here in New Jersey. When the Newark Public Schools went to a universal enrollment system, they published school ratings on the registration form that were clearly biased towards charters with no regard for how student demographics might impact test-based outcomes.
This shouldn't be a surprise in a state-run district like Newark; after all, as we learned this week, the NJDOE does not use the same accountability measures for charter schools that it does for district schools. And, as I pointed out years ago, the state makes no effort to hold charters accountable for the differing student populations they enroll compared to their host districts.
How could this be? Maybe it's because Chris Cerf -- the guy who ran the NJDOE for years and has now taken over NPS -- is a huge proponent of charter schools and worked for many years at Edison Learning, a high-profile school management company.
He's not alone. John King, New York's reformy former education commissioner, headed up the Uncommon Schools charter chain before taking his job with the state. He then proceeded to give them a pass on using the teacher evaluation system district schools had to use. Kevin Huffman, Tennessee's reformy former commissioner, basically turned a blind eye toward the infiltration of for-profit charter management groups into his state. Hanna Skandera, New Mexico's reformy current commissioner and a protege of privatization guru Jeb! Bush, overruled her own Public Education Commission to allow three low-performing charter schools to continue operating.
Of course, public officials should be free to pursue the policies they believe are in the best interest of their constituents. But putting charter school ideologues, many with connections to the school privatization industry, in charge of regulating charters is just asking for trouble. These people have sold a tale of district school "failure" as a way of allowing charter schools to flourish; does anyone really think they are going to easily change their minds when confronted with evidence that some of their beloved charters just aren't cutting it?
Putting foxes in charge of henhouses hasn't worked out well for other areas of public life, and it's certainly not going to help education. I'm not sure what the exact answer is here, but giving ideologically biased state education departments carte blanche to oversee charter schools is clearly not working out.
Don't worry, I got this...