Sunday, November 30, 2014

Charters: Schools for Scandals

Two pieces today: High suspension rates as a way to force kids out and

Charter schools have $28M in questionable expenses: audit - DN

The number of charter schools suspending kids is totally out of control


Created as a creative and more rigorous alternative, charter schools tend to outpace traditional public schools in most areas, including on standardized assessment tests. Yet charter schools also lead their traditional counterparts in a more disturbing trend: the number of students who are suspended or expelled each year.
In Boston, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice released a report this week showing that the city’s charter schools are far more likely to suspend students for infractions such as dress code violations and insubordination toward teachers. The report found that of the 10 Massachusetts school systems with the highest out-of-school suspension rates, nine were charter schools, and most were in the city.
Ditto Chicago, where an analysis of suspension rates issued in February found charter students were more likely to be dismissed than students in district-run schools. One network alone, the Noble Network of Charter Schools, had a suspension rate more than twice that of the city’s traditional public schools.  
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a report issued in September about a similar examination of school discipline found that from 2011 to 2013, charters expelled an average of 225 students per year, compared with just eight students in the traditional school system.  
The disparity has caught the attention of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who warned charters last year that their higher-than-average expulsion rate was “not acceptable.” In a 2013 speech to the National Charters Conference, Duncan challenged charter schools to find “alternative discipline methods” to out-of-school suspensions that keep students engaged while maintaining accountability and order in the classroom.
But public education advocate Jeff Bryant says the disproportionate suspension rates are a symptom of a much deeper problem. Charter schools, he says, are using harsh, zero-tolerance discipline to weed out problem students and boost standardized test scores.
“I think there’s strong evidence from [studies] and anecdotally” that support that theory, said Bryant, director of Education Opportunity Network, a public-school policy center. “Charter schools discriminate and select their students in many different ways,” he added, including out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, to winnow out underachievers.
That’s because of the bargain that charter schools have made with the taxpayers that fund them. In exchange for taxpayer money and the freedom to innovate, charter schools are held to a higher academic standard, particularly on student achievement and assessment tests. But because they’re still public schools, Bryant said, they have to accept any kid who wants to attend.
“Here’s the problem: We’ve set up this system where we determine whether a school is a failure or not by the students’ test scores,” Bryant explained. “When you isolate one variable like that and make everything else contingent on it, you encourage schools to game the system.”
While bringing order and discipline to classrooms, education experts say get-tough school discipline can do more harm than good, leading at-risk students to disengage from their own education, thus feeding the school-to-prison pipeline. Moreover, Education Department statistics indicate minority students—specifically African American boys and girls—are several times more likely to face harsh punishments, such as out-of-school suspensions.  
Though the statistics are troubling, charter school advocates say their expulsion policies have nothing to do with inflating their academic record. Every case is different, they argue, and suspensions of a relative handful of students wouldn’t move the achievement needle very much.
“There [are] some [schools] above and some below the district average,” Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, told the Chicago Tribune in February. “You can’t make the argument that expulsions themselves are causing the overall school performance to increase because the (small percentage of) expelled students will not meaningfully change how well students did overall.”
But Bryant said the pattern is hard to deny, and charter schools tend not to have the same amount of resources to help children who might have behavior or learning difficulties, problems poverty tends to exacerbate. For school administrators, he added, suspension or expulsion—and returning the student to a traditional public school—is an easier alternative.
“I think there’s a place for high [behavioral] standards in education. But when there are certain factors that come into play, those expectations have to be balanced with the child’s needs,” he said. “If you are allowed to set up a school that’s not going to deal with what it takes to handle those students, that can give you an advantage” and make it easier to suspend or dismiss them.
“We cannot simply play a game of musical chairs” with struggling students “and hope some school has a magic bullet for educating them all,” Bryant added.


Charter schools have $28M in questionable expenses: audit
30 November 2014 12:30 AM

New York State charter schools have made more than $28 million in questionable expenditures since 2002, according to a new review of previous audits of the publicly funded, privately run schools.
The Center for Popular Democracy’s analysis charter school audits found investigators uncovered probable financial mismanagement in 95% of the schools they examined.
Kyle Serrette, executive director of the progressive, Washington-based group, said the review of previously published audits showed the schools need greater oversight.
“We can’t afford to have a system that fails to cull the fraudulent charter operators from the honest ones,” said Serrette. “Establishing a charter school oversight system that prevents fraud, waste and mismanagement will attack the root cause of the problem.”
The state controller’s office and state Education Department have audited 62 of New York’s 248 charter schools, according to Serrette’s report. All told, Serrette’s group estimates wasteful spending at charters could cost taxpayers more than $50 million per year.
Eighteen audits targeted charters in New York City, representing about 9% of the 197 charters in the five boroughs. Each audit found issues.
  • A 2012 audit found Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School was paying $800,000 in excess annual fees to the management company that holds its building’s lease.
  • A 2012 audit of Williamsburg Charter High School revealed school officials overbilled the city for operations and paid contractors for $200,800 in services that should have been provided by the school’s network.
  • A 2007 audit of the Carl C. Icahn Charter School determined the Bronx school spent more than $1,288 on alcohol for staff parties and failed to account for another $102,857 in expenses.
The city spends more than $1.29 billion on charters annually.
State Education Department officials and a spokesman for the state controller’s office declined to comment on Serrette’s report.
Northeast Charter School Network CEO Kyle Rosenkrans said the schools already get plenty of oversight because they are subject to audits and must have their charters renewed at least every five years.
“Charter schools are the most accountable public schools there are,” the charter advocate said. “If we don’t perform or we mismanage our finances, we get shut down.

------Sent from Daily News

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