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