Educator Voices

More voices join chorus for increased oversight of charter schools

By Brian Washington and Bob Tate

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In Mansfield, Ohio, the beginning of the school year is not the only time educators see new faces in the classroom.

According to Brad Strong, an educator with 21 years experience in the city’s school district, it also happens right after the holiday break in December. He says that’s when the charter schools in his district start shedding those students who may be discipline problems or present other challenges to learning.

“I think it is out and out discrimination. That’s what it is,” said Strong, who was born and raised outside Mansfield. “They discriminate against minorities. They discriminate against special needs students. I think they discriminate against kids who have any sort of issue that might present a challenge in the classroom.”

Charter schools are funded using taxpayer dollars. But unlike neighborhood schools, charters underserve English learners and students with disabilities, especially students with more severe disabilities.  Some charter chains touted as “high performing” are known to have high student attrition rates. And many charter schools have high staff turnover rates. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education, taking note of the growing debate, issued guidance this month confirming that the same federal civil rights laws that apply to public schools apply equally to public charter schools.

Strong thinks the ones in his district need more oversight and accountability and should be held to the same high standards as traditional public schools.

In Ohio, they (charter schools) don’t have to have certified educators. We (traditional public schools) get dinged if we have teachers who are not certified. Instead, it seems they get more money. They have a whole different set of rules.

Problems proliferate in current charter school landscape

Charter schools were originally intended to be a place where educators could explore new methods of teaching, which is why they were exempt from many of the rules and regulations governing traditional public schools. Charter schools can be managed under contract by non-profit organizations or private companies.

Click here to view the report

Nationwide, an estimated 6,400 charter schools enroll upward of 2.5 million students. But according to federal education officials, the growth of charter schools nationwide has been accompanied by a steady increase in the number of complaints.

In fact, a new report cites more than $100 million in losses to taxpayers due to what it calls “waste, fraud, and abuse” within the nation’s charter schools. Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud and Abuse looks at 15 states, including Ohio, that have seen significant growth in the number of charter schools. The report outlines several causes for the problems, including:

  • Charter operators using public funds illegally for personal gain
  • School revenue being used illegally to support other charter operator businesses
  • Mismanagement that puts children in actual or potential danger, and
  • Charters illegally requesting public dollars for services not provided.

The report makes several recommendations linked to more oversight and transparency, including having states explicitly declare that charter schools are public schools and are subject to the same non-discrimination and transparency requirements as are other public-funded schools.

The National Education Association represents about 3 million educators nationwide and supports quality public education for all students, regardless of whether they attend traditional, magnet or charter public schools.

In a recent letter to the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10), NEA also stressed the need for accountability and transparency but also cautioned lawmakers about thinking of charters schools as a silver bullet.

NEA supports high-quality charter schools that operate in a manner that is transparent and accountable to parents and taxpayers; ensures equity and access; and solicits and benefits from the input from parents, educators, and the communities they serve. We caution, however, that charter schools are not a panacea for solving all education challenges.

Where do we begin to improve charter school quality?

Nationally,charters have a 10 percent revocation rate, costing taxpayers billions of dollars that did not result in better schools for students. Federal and state taxpayers spent more than $2 billion on charter schools that closed over a 10-year period in the state of Texas alone. The situation has prompted NEA to press for closer scrutiny of charter applications by charter “authorizers,” in many cases local school boards or state education agencies, as designated in states with charter laws.

Ohio Educator Brad Strong

When authorizers do a persistently poor job of vetting initial charter applications, the likelihood of poor academic or financial performance increases. This raises the spectre of possible charter revocations, which are highly disruptive to students, families and communities.

Often times, students from closed charter schools return to traditional public schools, but, with a lag in financial resources returning to the traditional school, the end result is more disruption.

Yet, states have failed to revoke or suspend the privileges of authorizers whose decisions have led to such consequences.  However, NEA has succeeded in tasking states with establishing criteria for authorizer revocation in the most recent charter schools legislation considered on Capitol Hill.

Even some leading charter school advocates are calling for more oversight — going against concerns from some critics that more regulation might hamper innovation.

“People usually pass laws as a way to deal with real problems, of which there are plenty in the charter sector,” wrote Robin Lake with the Center for the Revitalization of Public Education. “The sector will not help itself, or children, by wishing away those problems, or those laws.”

Strong, who belongs to the Ohio Education Association (OEA), an NEA affiliate, says OEA has also asked Gov. John Kasich and the state legislature to impose more oversight on charter schools, but he says those requests have been ignored.

His hope is that this November voters will give the state a governor who understands why charter schools need to uphold the same standards for quality assurance and protections that cover students, parents, and taxpayers as those governing traditional public schools.

“Absolutely,” said Strong. “That’s the only way to ensure that the students who attend these schools are getting a quality public education and taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely.”

29 responses to “More voices join chorus for increased oversight of charter schools

  1. My 7-year old was just “dismissed” from our local charter school for being “socially unacceptable” and having low math scores. She would pass notes in class and had difficulty maintaining friendships. I can tell you our charter was hardly diverse. With 500 students I never saw one special needs student. There was no help for those struggling. They viewed themselves as elite and touted their gifted program. My child was disposed of like a piece of trash. No help was offered or given. In our final meeting we were told she would likely go into adulthood with these behaviors. I was floored. She is currently being evaluated and it appears she may be ADHD. They made it perfectly clear there was no room in their school for kids like her. Admittedly I had my gut feelings long before but ignored them. The school was hardly innovative and had extremely high turnover. In fact none of her teachers remained longer than one year. I had requested extra help for her in math but they did not offer tutoring or any additional help. They rely solely on parent volunteers. Although I believe there is a better environment for my child, I am really struggling with the fact that my tax dollars are going to a school like this. The more I research charters and recall my experiences over the past three years the more I am greatly disturbed and concerned for the future of those children who fit into their ideal box of perfection.

  2. Let’s face it, charter schools are PROFIT centers. The are not there to teach but to make money. I say NO TAX DOLLARS for charter schools. Put our tax dollars to work in public schools and to benefit ALL children.

  3. Some of you need first-hand knowledge of what a charter school actually does. Here is the “straight dope” from someone who has actually been there! Diverse education? Nope, there is no diversity in the charter school I have been in contact with. No actual certification process for administrators. This means they have NO idea what constitutes a good or great teacher and what makes a lousy one. No teaching of the arts (music, visual, etc.-)doesn’t exist! No safety in the classroom, no planning for emergency situations such as weather, fire, armed civilians in the school, although a 504 plan may exist, they shuffle papers so they do not have to deal with special needs. Quality education?-many have super young teachers (with education cutbacks many of our nation’s brightest minds can’t get a job) but they are so over-worked and under-appreciated that over half in many schools leave after one or two years because of how they are treated and how the system is run. Scores will look good for a year or so but check out the results after a full curriculum-many DO NOT GET A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA!!

  4. Taxes should only be used for public schools – much updating is needed & there is not enough for all the other varieties of “school” types. What I have observed of a Charter School being involved in a public school site, was a total interruption of an educational effort!
    We have to go back to smaller classes, more subject matters, better trained teachers who are teaching their college majors and know a variety of teaching methods for the “type-variety” child.
    To have a healthy, brighter country, we must have better education for ALL. All children are different – teachers need to give as much as each student can handle.

    1. We should do for schools what Obama has done to healthcare. You pay your own way and choose the school you want.

  5. In addition to “union busting” and blatant discrimination which exacerbates years of work toward integration, one of my biggest concerns with the Charter School movement is how those schools have the freedom to shut their doors and say “Sorry, we’re full” when the general public schools need to add portable buildings, teach in the hallways, or stuff classrooms with more than 30 students when enrollment is high. It is simply not fair to compare districts which have different criteria. Additionally, many Charters are able to take advantage of the extracurricular programs, busing, and other services offered by their home districts without paying the true costs. This drains funding for home districts, reducing the quality of education those students receive in order for the Charter school to continue to have a smaller school setting. If small schools are “the answer” then why have so many thousands of public schools been forced to consolidate into larger schools to save money?

  6. I taught music in a Parochial School for 15 years. The the recession hit and teachers were let go, one by one. I was unemployed for over three years and just got a job this year teaching for two sister charter schools. NO ONE ELSE OFFERED ME A JOB!! I am an exceptional, experienced teacher with a Masters Degree and 23 years experience. What was I supposed to do? I, too, believe in the Public Schools and want that to be our focus, but, what about all the teachers that have no jobs? I agree with almost everyone about the Charter Schools except for a few things. The Charter School(s) where I teach try everything to keep students. Many students (and their families) are highly dysfunctional. They are usually the ones being ‘kicked’ out of their original schools and end up in the Charter system. More Charter Schools now have psychologists, counselors, speech pathologists, OT’s, PT’s and Special Ed teachers. Still, it may not be the answer. But, how do we get the public (and Congress) to get behind the real issue(s) and put the money and effort into education which influences every single other aspect of life?

  7. Some are good and some are not. But, the biggest problem in my state (Arizona) is that charter and traditional district schools are not funded equably. Under Arizona’s funding formula, charter schools receive over a $1,000 dollars more per student than traditional public schools. Theoretically, the traditional schools can “make up” that amount by imposing taxes – but, they have to put that tax on the ballot every 5 years, are not permitted to campaign and just have to hope it passes. Far too frequently, the extra tax does not pass – or it passes at a lower rate. Charter schools automatically get the extra money. They don’t have to rely on a ballot measure and they don’t have to beg for a renewal every 5 years. In addition to getting more money per student, the charter schools do not have the same fixed costs. They do not have to hire certified teachers, pay for their medical insurance or retirement. They are not required to have buses. And, they are allowed to impose mandatory volunteer hours, require payment into classroom funds, and require students to purchase their own books. Traditional public schools cannot do that. It is unfair to compare the two when they do not have to play by the same rules. It’s not just comparing apples to oranges, it’s like comparing apples and fish.

  8. Public school teachers have seen these problems for years. Charters here in Los Angeles can require parent volunteer hours and remove children whose parents do not meet those hours. Discipline problems, learning disabled, and low performing students are constantly removed and sent back to public classrooms.Why are we still allowing these for profit schools to take tax dollars from public schools? This is wrong and needs to be stopped.

  9. There are way too many “charter” schools that do not teach well. There are also very good charter schools. However, without oversight they can actually teach nothing at all or set up phony schools for profit only. I don’t understand why anyone democrat or republican would want a school without financial and educational oversight especially for fraud, and required levels of teacher certification and or teacher competency and educational background, and specific student requirements for progress.

  10. In the charter vs public school dual for taxpayers’ education dollar states are passing laws to transfer existing publicly managed school district property to charters at below market cost or even for free.

    If states want a competition between public schools and private management of public schools by charter school operators, they should keep the competition fair.

    By passing state laws that require school districts to sell their surplus property at below market value, such laws transfer wealth from public ownership to private control without fair compensation.

    These type of laws are not improving public schools by a public private competition. But, these laws instead are a test of the power of the special interest charter lobby of a state to pass this type of legislation regardless, if passage, forcing districts to sell at below market value, harms public school districts and reduces the value of districts’ property.

  11. The same old failed way of doing things must change. We need to have vouchers for parents to choose based on the best quality education. The one size fits all liberal biased indoctrination needs to be killed off and replaced with teaching balanced view points. Teaching both sides of issues and history foster free thinking students who will be more successful.

    1. Vouchers?? That is just another way to bleed off funds from the public system. I was told that over 30 high school students that were in voucher schools were told just before the state achievement test was given that they had a choice. They were deemed discipline problems and they were going to be expelled from the voucher school or they could drop out and enroll in the public system. Surprisingly, most if not all failed in the state testing program. Was the voucher money returned? NO!! Did their state test scores go on the voucher school’s record?? NO!! And yet I consistently hear how great the kids are and the test scores are so high at “Our Lady of the Checkbook!!” We need vouchers for private schools like the Titanic needed some more ice cubes!!

      1. The failed public schools in places like Washington DC where the only hope for low income children to get any kind of an education, were Vouchers. Bu Obama and the leftist teachers union did away with them. Today our public schools indoctrinate children to be fools for the failed policies of liberals and leftists. Our education system needs to be gutted and declared union free zones for there to be any hope for our children not to be left behind the rest of the world.

      2. summarizes the most topical public policy issues from today’s newspapers, scholarly journals and think tanks.

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        Obamanomics Hurting Millennials

        June 4, 2014

        Millennials are suffering under the Obama recovery, writes George Will for the Washington Post.

        In the 1981-1982 recession, in which the U.S. had an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent, the Reagan administration raised interest rates, lowered taxes and eased regulations. The economy expanded from 1983 to 1988, growing at an average of 4.6 percent. For five quarters, it grew over 7 percent.

        But President Obama has taken a different approach in our current recovery:
        • June marks the beginning of the sixth year of a very weak recovery from the 18-month-long recession, and in the first quarter of 2014, the U.S. saw just 0.1 percent economic growth.
        • Under Obama, the economy has grown at 2.5 percent, 1.8 percent, 2.8 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively, from 2010 through 2013.
        • Regulation has spiked under the Obama administration. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, while Congress passed 72 laws in 2013, bureaucrats issued 3,659 regulations.

        Millennials have been especially hurt by the country’s weak economic performance:
        • While the unemployment rate fell by four-tenths of a point in April, it dropped because 806,000 Americans left the labor force. The labor force participation rate is the lowest that the U.S. has seen since 1978.
        • While there are 14.5 million more Americans than there were before the recession, there are 300,000 fewer jobs.
        • Currently, young Americans have $1.1 trillion in student loan debt — the fastest-growing debt category. In 2012, more than 70 percent of college graduates had debts averaging $30,000.
        • More than 40 percent of new college graduates are unemployed or in jobs that do not require a college degree. Forty-four percent of job growth since the recession has been in food services, retail clerking and other low-wage occupations.
        • The number of millennials in the work force declined in April by 484,000. Thirty-one percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 are living with their parents, and 25 percent of those young Americans have jobs.

        Millennials are the first generation since World War II to see higher unemployment or poverty rates than their parents did at the same age.

        Source: George F. Will, “The Obama Economy Offers Bad News for Millennials,” Washington Post, May 28, 2014.

    2. It’s so funny that you all object to really teaching objectively. Your brainwashing and indoctrinating children into your leftist close minded failed ideology. It’s no wonder you protest to stop different view points from being heard. You are the book burners of our age. Truly pathetic.

      1. Yeah, there is a lot of “brainwashing” going on in the Math, English, Chemistry, and Foreign Language classes at the schools I have been in. The indoctrination of kids into “Leftist Math” must be shut down and controlled by the far right to save these children from such dangerous things as thinking for themselves!!

        1. OMG Yeah there is. My daughters English teacher called her “fox news” for offering up her opinion in defiance of his leftist rant. At first I let it go, figuring that it’s all in fun. Then he started getting nasty and when I told the guidance counselor that I wanted meeting with the principal and the offending teacher the little coward changed his tune quick. Yeah, there is plenty of left wing indoctrination going on in all the classes and it must stop or schools need to be flushed of all who preach lies and intimidate any voices of dissent.

    3. Andrew, how can you have an unbiased view if you want to “kill” liberal views? We can’t know the extent of or absence of bias in charters because they are not subject to the same oversight as public schools. Vouchers? What makes you think that parents can determine whether a school is good or bad if they are looking for a place to “spend” their voucher. If parents were capable of this, they would be raising hell to bring the public school in their area up to standard. Never mind the fact that vouchers, private schools and charters (de facto private schools) drain money from the mainstream public schools and help to bring about their destruction. This is precisely what ALEC and its allies want. Corporate entities watch with lip smacking anticipation of making all education a profit making endeavor. The bottom line then will be not is what’s best for students but what is the best for profits.

      1. Since only liberal views are given, they do deserve to be eliminated. If you’re not going to give both view points equally, then none should be given. I don’t want my children (and many feel this same way) to be indoctrinated into leftist views and don’t want any of my tax money to go to schools that teach them. Teach view points equally or not at all. I trust parents to make the decision on what kind of environment to send their children to much more than the teachers union. 70 years of the “great society” have given us worse results and more poverty than ever before. Time to admit that what is going on is a failure and give rise to choice. Parents can look at results and make choices on where to send their children better than the machine of big government.

        1. Higher poverty?? Maybe, but looking at the stock market and the profits of large corporations I can tell how they have suffered in the great society you mention!!

          1. Under Obama’s leftist policies, the rich get richer and poor get poorer. We have the lowest labor participation rate since the 70’s and more people on food stamps and in poverty than ever before. The middle class and the full time job are dying because of leftist policies.

            Good luck paying back those outrageous student loans. Education costs have risen by 8% because the government gives out loans without regard for the ability of the graduate to pay it back.

            You have such a simple minded outlook.

            1. Why is there so many fewer jobs? Because the rich, seeking more riches, took their businesses out of this country to foreign nations where it costs less to run their companies. This took jobs away from American workers. I.E. Whirlpool Corp. left my hometown for Mexico and still expected American families that lost jobs to buy their products. You say this is Obama’s fault? Like him or not he is dealing with what was there when he came to office. That would be the Bush administration. Narrow view?? You, sir are far ahead of me in that area!!

            2. Government rules and mandates destroy jobs. Obamacare is destroying jobs. Obama’s new regulations on power companies will destroy jobs, estimated to add $300.00 to the average eclectic bill. China is building 50 new nuclear power plants, while we force everyone to use “green” energy that costs 10 times more. There will be no manufacturing in the US after the liberals institute heir “fairness” and Green dream on the corporations and public.
              We have the highest tax rate in the world and companies of all sizes are leaving and taking their jobs with them. 35% corporate income tax vs 10% to 15% elsewhere. It is in the best interest of the stockholders to leave the USA.

              4 years after Carter, Reagan had one month with 1.1 million new jobs and 8% GDP. 6 years after the leftists “fairness” doctrine we have -1% GDP and a real unemployment rate of 12.5% (U6) and over 800,000 quit looking for work last month alone. You have the blinders on, and it’s really sad.

      2. By the way, profit is a good thing. It forces innovation and controls cost. What we have now is runaway spending with failed results, particularly in the poorest cities.

  12. Charter Schools now seem to be a vehicle through which traditional public education is being eviscerated by those seeking to destroy quality public education for all in favor of private education for the select few. It is beyond me to understand how this movement has been allowed to grow.

    1. Linda:

      Charter school concept has grown because it was seen as benign. Head of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) sponsored charter school growth and too late recognized that it was becoming an instrument for union busting.

      Who wants to stand against people that want to improve public education? What is wrong with private management trying to give competition to public school government monopoly?

      Charter schools taken as a whole have over time not proven to better choice for parents.

      Charter schools have done harm to existing public school with enrollment drain reducing funding existing programs for students enrolled in the public schools.

      Charter laws advanced interest of charter schools at the expense of reducing support for public schools.

      Charter school laws have reduced democratically elected school boards’ power by state legislation requiring school boards to suppress the interest of both a district’s students, parents and a local community in the interest of growing charter schools.

      While rich individuals have throw mountains of money at supporting and advantaging charter schools, when the money is spent the “reforms” are often not sustainable or desirable.

      And, often in the dash for the rich guys’ money concern with making decisions democratically; or examining strings attached to the reform money, are vanquished!

      Now we have over 2 million students enrolled in charter schools supporting with public dollars a newly risen charter school lobby in state capitols and the Nation’s capitol lobbying to protect and increase the power of charter schools.

      Meanwhile the NEA and AFT policies treat charter schools as benign. But, they are not!

  13. All charter schools are taking a beating for things that less than 10% of them are gulty of and I’d bet most of that 10% are for profit schools. I agree oversight is essential but I believe that is the responsibility of the sponsors. Time to regulate the sponsors more closely! Our sponsor routinely oversees our actions. They help handle finances as well as state reporting. We are routinely visited and have a direct link to them for support. We have only been in operation for 2 years but are running in the black. I personally am a certified special ed teacher and believe me there is never a thought about not accepting or dismissing a child with disabilities. Our community fought for our school and continue to support us. They love having a local school back and their kids don’t have to ride the bus for an hour! Are we perfect? Of course not but we’re trying and for that matter a lot of district public schools sure aren’t any better!

    1. When for profit charter schools and public schools are treated the same way in measuring student growth and standards set by government, then perhaps we can have an intelligent conversation about education. Until then I highly resent my tax money forked over to a charter school profiteer who can spend tax money however they want with a majority in some rich person’s bank account. That is not why I pay taxes.They also need to enforce the exact same standards and quit saying that public schools are failing when most are not. Charter schools do not have a good reputation and lose many teachers within 3 years–a revolving door.

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