Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Charter Schools Self Destructing

Just at a time when the future of charter schools in Louisiana looks brightest, more and more charter school operations are self-destructing. A few months ago, numerous violations of child protection laws and alleged cheating and other improprieties caused the cancellation of the charter for Abramson Science and Technology Charter in New Orleans. A State Department investigation continues of its sister charter, Kennilworth Science and Technology in Baton Rouge.

Now we learn (click for the Advocate story) that all 5 schools managed by the Advance Baton Rouge charter management organization will gradually be taken over or turned over to other managers by the State Recovery District. (There is apparently no consideration of returning these schools to their former parish school boards) The causes as we have reported before on this blog include administrative difficulties and a complete failure to improve academic performance.  This is the same company that has proclaimed itself as a trainer of school principals for 21st Century schools. These failures occurred despite many management changes and special funding infusions including a huge federal grant for a Teacher Advancement Program initiative in the ABR schools. Wonder what will happen to the 13.3 million dollar federal grant if ABR loses its charters?

Now we have learned that Sojourner Truth Academy in New Orleans may lose its charter because of unacceptable School Performance Scores and amid allegations that special education regulations have been violated concerning the discipline and suspensions of special needs students. Teachers in this school and others have complained that some suspensions go unrecorded, that the charters "counsel out" undesirable or low performing students and that many students are being promoted improperly by bending or breaking state regulations. As I have pointed out before in this blog, there is an unhealthy and corrupting pressure to produce or even fabricate results in these charter operations. Apparently this school will also be returned to the RSD for reorganization. When this happens, the transition period allows such schools to start over in the calculation of a new School Performance Score (SPS). Several observers claim that this allows the RSD to avoid reporting SPS on some of the lowest performing schools. ( In this case it looks like the school will be closed and the students assigned to other schools)

Added after original post: Karran Harper Royal, an education activist from New Orleans sent us this more complete list of recently failed charters in the New Orleans area.
RSD Charters  
New Orleans Free Academy (Charter relinquished, now closed)
Esperanza ( Charter relinquished, now chartered by Choice Foundation)
Harriet Tubman Charter School (non renewed now chartered by Crescent City Schools)
Abramson Science & Technology Academy (Revoked, now run by RSD, and K-8 will be rechartered and 9-12 will be shut down)
Sojourner Truth Academy (Announced that it will relinquish it's charter rather than get revoked)
Langston Hughes board will soon decide whether to relinquish it's charter, although they are supportive of Firstline taking over the school.
OPSP Charters
Priestly Charter School (Relinquished, now OPSB direct run school)

Notice that most of the charters were relinquished rather than revoked. The LDOE usually tries to convince the (charter) board to relinquish to save their good name from the revocation process. I suspect it's so as to keep things low key and avoid a nasty public battle.
Karran Harper Royal

Also, just as Louisiana is ramping up to allow increased enrollment in its virtual charter schools that are managed by for-profit corporations, a study in Colorado of some of the same virtual management organizations that are operating in Louisiana, show mostly dismal results. The study found that many virtual charter students fall behind in their studies compared to students attending traditional schools. Many decide to transfer back to regular schools at mid-year after the charter management organization has locked in state funds for that year. This is placing an unfair burden on the school systems that are forced to accept students without the state funding. Added on 11/30: Wow, this is even more damning! Just a week before the Louisiana Legislature will be indoctrinated by a conservative group to enlarge the Louisiana virtual school enrollment, check out the blog on Virtual Schools this week by Diane Ravitch

Many education "reformers" have made the totally unsupported claim that virtual charter schools should be effective in educating "at risk" students or students that have experienced discipline problems etc. All the evidence shows just the opposite. At risk students compared to students who are self motivated are most in need of direct supervision by strong classroom teachers. Such students usually cannot be relied upon to sit at a computer and do mostly self directed academic exercises required by virtual instructional programs. In addition, the virtual system depends heavily on parent or at home coaches to monitor day to day schedules. The problem is, many at risk students are at risk because they do not have effective parental support and encouragement!

It will be interesting to see if the new students in Louisiana's privately run virtual charters stick with the program and succeed academically or opt to reenter traditional schools at mid year. Will the virtual schools get to keep the generous state funding they have received from BESE if some students transfer at mid year?

This is the danger of Louisiana rushing headlong into privatization of schools without the time to carefully assess results of such programs. For example, the Jindal administration has continued to support the funding of vouchers in the New Orleans area even though statistics show that students getting vouchers to attend parochial schools are performing at an even lower level than the students in the extremely low performing RSD schools.