Charter school expansion: More reasons for skepticism

As the state legislature moves ahead with a plan to open the door to lots more charter schools in Indiana, news stories keep appearing that make you wonder why.

In Monday’s Indianapolis Star, Scott Elliott explains how Indiana charter schools can use “sponsor shopping” to avoid being held accountable. Fountain Square Academy, a grades 5-12 school sponsored by the Indianapolis mayor’s office, is slated to become the first charter school in Indiana to close for poor performance. But it may be able to stay open by switching its sponsorship to Ball State University.

Sound unlikely? Elliott recounts how, in 2006, the mayor’s office, in a “devastatingly detailed” report, rejected a proposal from the Imagine Schools charter chain. But three months later Ball State approved the first of what would be four Imagine schools in Indiana – schools that are among the worst-performing charters in the state.

Department of Education officials claim House Bill 1002, being debated by the legislature, will hold charter schools accountable. But in fact it will be up to the sponsoring organizations – and to a certain extent a new state charter-schools board – to ensure that the schools perform.

The legislation extends the ability to sponsor charter schools to at least 30 private colleges and universities. So opportunities for charter operators to shop for sponsors could be greatly enhanced.

KIPP gets a kick

Probably no charter school operation has a better reputation for helping poor and minority kids succeed than the California-based KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) school system.

But a recent study from Western Michigan University could scuff up KIPP’s image. It found that KIPP schools have high attrition rates, with up to 15 percent of students leaving each year between sixth and eighth grades. And because of private donations, KIPP schools spend about $5,000 more per year per student than traditional schools, Continue reading

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Indiana charter schools rally to feature Rhee, Daniels

Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor and arguably the most polarizing figure in American education, will share a podium with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and House Speaker Brian Bosma this month at a rally in support of charter schools.

The rally, at 11:30 a.m. on March 30 at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, is being organized by the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association. It’s aimed at showing support for House Bill 1002, legislation that could dramatically increase the number of charter schools in Indiana.

The House approved the bill on a mostly party-line vote – Republicans for, Democrats against. It’s now being considered by the Senate, along with several other education-related measures pushed by Daniels and Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett.

It expands sponsorship of charter schools to private, nonprofit colleges and universities and a state charter-schools board; lifts a cap on the number of charter schools sponsored by the mayor of Indianapolis; and allows up to 25 percent of full-time teachers in a charter school to be unlicensed (down from 50 percent in a previous measure). It also establishes procedures for charter schools to lease unused public-school facilities for $1 a year.

Rhee became the darling of education reform advocates with her take-no-prisoners approach to battling the American Federation of Teachers while she was D.C. schools chancellor. It won her a Time magazine cover and a starring role in the documentary film Waiting for “Superman.” She quit the job when her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his job in the Democratic primary last fall.

Rhee then founded a group called StudentsFirst, which intends to spend an astounding $200 million a year on education-related political advocacy. A Democrat, she has been consorting recently with Republican governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Florida’s Rick Scott, Ohio’s John Kasich – and now Indiana’s Daniels.

Andrew Rice has an excellent story about Rhee and the national education debate in the current issue of New York magazine. Noting that public opinion may have swung back in favor of teachers and unions in response to over-reaching by Wisconsin Gov. Rick Walker and others, Rice concludes that “Rhee could soon learn an important lesson of politics: Your allies can damage you as much as your enemies.”