Sunday, August 29, 2004

CA charter schools

Geez. When it rains, it pours. More commentary on charter schools, this time from Howard Blume in the LAT (apologies: need to register and this story is likely to fall out of circulation in a week).

Using the recent closure of the 60 charter schools in CA as a reference point, Blume makes a couple of points worth highlighting.

Charters aren't under the same pressures as businesses.
Because charters must operate like businesses, the theory goes, they have built-in accountability: If customers — students and their parents — choose to enroll, the school stays in business; if customers elect to go elsewhere, the school fails. The free market will ensure that exemplary schools stay afloat while the poor ones won't.

Critics of charter schools insist that such logic is too simplistic. Most businesses, they note, aren't supported by public funds. With a restaurant, say, if the service is bad, or the food overpriced and unhealthful, those flaws are not subsidized by tax dollars. All that counts is whether people want to continue patronizing the restaurant. But with a school supported by public funds, critics say, the marketplace shouldn't be the final arbiter. If a school's academics are weak, if it teaches religion, if its teachers are undertrained or ineffective, it shouldn't be supported by state funds even if students and their families are happy.
I bet this will infruriate the free-market supporters.

Oversight is important. It's good to note this school system, CCA, closed as a result of actions taken by the state board, the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools.
The state's nine-member Advisory Commission on Charter Schools, set up in 2001, is also emerging as a champion of higher standards. The panel, made up of charter-school operators, state officials and appointees who represent parents and teachers, turned up the heat on California Charter Academy by concluding that it didn't spend a high enough share of its state dollars on services to students. CCA's funds were docked accordingly.
In fact, this charter school system was making lots of money for its owners. Not surprisingly, CCA wasn't spending enough on the kids.
Some of CCA's satellite schools may have been worthy, but there's little doubt that the operation was a profit-generating machine, in part because its nonprofit schools contracted with a for-profit management company run by CCA's leadership. The charter operation also maximized profits by operating campuses along an independent-study model. Such schools receive regular funding, but can have low overhead — with few traditional classes, no food services and cheap storefront "campuses."
One notable omission: I'd like to see more connection with the federal law since NCLB drives the system towards charters and vouchers (take a look at what the law decrees for public schools to deliver education for 2014: perfection even though we know it's not fair to expect charters to be perfect). The reason why it's so important to look at how charter schools are doing because the federal law pushes the system towards charters and vouchers without any reasonable ways to try to fix the existing system.

Using public education to make gobs of money for investors doesn't seem right. I'm glad to see more info on how for-profit entities are doing in their attempts to profit from public education funds.