More charter school oversight?

by David Safier
As you know if you've read my posts about charter schools, I like the idea of charters, but I want to see more oversight to make sure each school is making a genuine effort to educate its students and accounting for the tax dollars it spends. It looks like Arizona may be heading in that direction. So why am I skeptical?

Owners of some of Arizona's best charter schools are taking unprecedented steps to strengthen the oversight and quality of the charter-school system, which could lead to the closing of more schools.

About a dozen owners have taken over the once small, mostly volunteer Arizona Charter Schools Association, an advocacy group, with a newfound purpose: to push tougher enforcement of state standards and stricter accountability in Arizona's 475 charter schools.

If it's a small group of charter school owners who are pushing the accountability, I'm concerned about their motives, and about their methods. They want to close other charters, not theirs, and their methods of oversight are going to praise their strengths and condemn other schools' weaknesses.

That being said, this could be a good thing. At best, it could mean Arizona will have fewer but better charter schools which give parents and students strong alternatives to traditional public schools, or, even better, a growing number of quality schools. More regulation will make it harder for bad schools to hide.

But Lisa Graham Keegan is on board with this, the former AZ Ed Supe who pushed both charters and vouchers and was McCain's main educational advisor during his presidential campaign. She represents the conservative end of the educational spectrum.

And yet, in this case, our interests may converge. If she wants charters to thrive, she has a stake in driving out the bad ones. If I want to see our students get good educations, I want the same thing.

But most of the owners promoting the new accountability run schools that cater to the high end of the academic spectrum. Will they drive out schools that work with lower end kids which have more trouble showing progress with their students?

If the success or failure of a charter school is driven by test scores, consider this. High end students generally make more than a year's progress in their test scores each year, by definition, even in mediocre schools. That's what makes them "high end" — that their test scores are above average. Low end students gain less than a year, also by definition. Will that be accounted for in looking over the data? If not, charter schools could become synonymous with boutique schools?

I'll watch what happens, hopeful but wary. I don't know the political or educational leanings of all the players here, but I do know, when conservatives get together, the results usually benefit their limited self interests.

0 responses to “More charter school oversight?

  1. Patt, government control takes many forms, charter school regulatory bureaucracies is one and then there are taxes. Taxes are a very effective form of control and are the reason people are concerned about the costs and results of public (government) education.

  2. Okay Safier, let’s get this straight… you’re for Charters, but you’re concerned that a small number of “elite” corporations may destroying Charter schools that serve “low end” students? Isn’t that the same argument that public school advocates make against Charter schools in general?

    Until tax payers provide enough funding to properly educate all kids, regardless of their range of needs… and, yes that means more money to teach kids English… then there will be winners and losers. Unfortunately, it costs more to incarcerate the losers than to educate them!

  3. Thane,
    At least today you put the word “public” in parentheses after government in referring to public schools. Only in the loosest sense of the word is a school district a government.

    “..eliminating ‘government control’ of education” when 90% of American children are educated in public schools is ridiculous.

    Isn’t there a libertarian blog where you can write and have your unlikely ideas validated?

  4. What is oversight and what is accountable? When it comes to charter schools not to mention government (public) schools it seems that getting everyone to agree on what criteria should be used is well nigh impossible. Expecting people, conservative or pro-government schools, to behave against their self-interest is expecting the counter-intuitive.

    Of course all of this is due to political control of schools and cannot be eliminated short of eliminating government control of education.