Thursday, September 30, 2010

Big Bucks for Under-performing Charters

Some Louisiana charter schools seem to be enjoying favored treatment by both state and federal education authorities even if their performance using accountability measures is very poor. A recent federal grant to some charter schools in the Baton Rouge area is especially notable. The State Department of Education announced this week that the five charter schools managed by the Advance Baton Rouge organization have been approved for a 13.3 million dollar federal grant to be distributed over a 5 year period. The announced purpose of the grant is to implement the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). This program rewards some teachers with higher status positions and salary increases based on student gains in basic skills. The press release from the Department of Education announced that several school systems in Louisiana are to be awarded a total of 73 million dollars in federal grants for implementation of the TAP program. The money is to come from a 1.2 billion dollar federal grant designed to attract teachers to hard-to-staff schools. Apparently all of the federal money for this project in Louisiana will be funneled through the Milken Foundation's National Institute for Excellence in Teaching which is a private non-profit organization that sponsors the TAP program in many school systems across the nation. This program seems to fit neatly into the U.S. Education Department's push for teacher merit pay based on student achievement.

I have two major concerns about the part of the grant that was approved for the Advance Baton Rouge organization:

  1. By all accountability measures Advance Baton Rouge's performance in managing these five schools has been a complete disaster. The performance of these schools has regressed significantly since the takeover by the charter school group. Only one of the 5 schools has shown a slight improvement in student high stakes scores. The composite scores of the 5 schools has changed as follows since the takeover: English/Language Arts performance has dropped from 33% basic or above before the takeover to only 23% basic or above in Spring 2010. Math has dropped from 29% basic or above to only 24% in 2010 and Science has dropped from 17% basic or above to only 12%. In comparison the state average for each of these three subject areas are ELA: 66% basic or above, Math: 65% basic or above and Science: 59% basic or above. How can such a huge commitment of our tax dollars be made to an organization that has shown no competence in running the schools entrusted to it?
  2. The size of the grant to this group is totally out of proportion to other school systems receiving similar grants. For example, one school system serving over 4,000 students will be getting a grant of 7.2 million to implement the same TAP program while the Advance Baton Rouge group will receive 13.3 million dollars to serve only 1,600 students. This amounts to over $8,000 per student. It is over 4 times as much per student as the regular school system will receive.
When the charter school program was approved in Louisiana, citizens and taxpayers were assured that all charter schools would be held to strict accountability for performance. Superintendent Pastorek has repeatedly pledged that failing charter schools would be either closed down or taken over by new management. It seems to me that some charters in Louisiana are favored and provided with massive funding whether they perform or not.

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