Birthplace of charter schools tightens controls and increases accountability of sponsors

One thing that remains murky to me is how accountable the state Charter Schools Commission – which a Fulton County judge recently ruled is constitutional – is for the schools that it approves over the objections of local boards of education. The commission is here in Atlanta, but it is approving schools across the state.

As the authorizer of the schools,  how is the commission held accountable if one goes bad or if parents are unhappy and can’t go to the local school board to complain since the local folks had nothing to do with the school’s approval?

At a media briefing earlier this year, Charter Schools Commission member Jennifer Rippner surprised me when I asked whether parents of  students in a commission charter school could ultimately turn to the charter commission with complaints that they felt were not being dealt with by the school itself or its board of directors.

Her answer was “yes,” raising the possibility of unhappy parents trying to track down the seven commissioners – most of whom have full-time, high-profile careers — and get them to delve into a problem their child was having in a school in south Georgia. Frankly, I just couldn’t see it happening.

Now comes an interesting development in Minnesota, the birthing ground of the charter school movement.

According to the Star Tribune:

The case of a Minneapolis charter school whose former director allegedly embezzled nearly $1.4 million is just one example of the problems lawmakers hope to squelch with new rules about how charter schools are overseen.

As the schools reach new heights of popularity in Minnesota, they’ll also find themselves under closer scrutiny, thanks to the biggest overhaul in the way the schools are regulated since the state became the first to pass a charter school law in 1991.

Legislative changes affecting the special breed of public schools will increase oversight, close loopholes and clean up unclear language that had made it easier for some schools to get away with sloppy management or outright theft. Charter school sponsors will have stricter guidelines — which could drive some away — and the state will have more power to withhold taxpayer money or to shut down a school that breaks the law.

“If these laws are working, then we’ll stop seeing these stories in the news,” said Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Finance Division.

One key question lawmakers sought to clarify was who should carry the biggest burden when it comes to monitoring individual schools: the state or authorizers. “One of the big glitches was that the state — the Department of Education — wasn’t able to dog and track all these charter schools,” Greiling said,

Some authorizers have gone “above and beyond the law” watching over the finances and operation of their charter schools, but others rarely even visit schools, said Chas Anderson, state Education Department deputy commissioner. “Without a strong authorizer, it’s really hit or miss whether a charter school is going to be successful.”

New rules require authorizers to keep closer tabs on charter schools and give them more power to cut ties with a failing school. “Now we have clarified that authorizers have ongoing and significant responsibilities. They can’t just sign their name and move on,” Greiling said.

63 comments Add your comment

Good news

June 21st, 2010
3:05 pm

Sounds like a very positive story of accountability for charter schools in Minnesota. But it does make one wonder why this blog would reference corruption in a charter school in Minnesota, yet stay silent on a multi-million dollar bid rigging scandal in the hometown of this paper, especially in light of the fact that it’s been days since the blog said “check back shortly” for the story.

But if the readers of the blog, don’t want to hold the blog accountable for keeping its word to those same readers…

Geography

June 21st, 2010
3:38 pm

We can reference a corruption case in Minnesota, but we ignore a corruption case here in Atlanta, all while showing total contempt to the readers who you told to “check back shortly” more than a week ago?

But if the readers aren’t willing to demand being treated with any more respect than to be lied to, what can you say?

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I Wonder

June 21st, 2010
4:24 pm

I’ve often wondered if the charter school movement is sort of like deregulation in banking and oil?

catlady

June 21st, 2010
5:06 pm

Let’s hold that judge responsible financially to be sure these charters are being run correctly! She can be assisted by members (with deep pockets) of the state level commissioning group.

Tony

June 21st, 2010
6:58 pm

The fundamental purpose of allowing charters was to free the schools from “burdensome” regulation by the state. Sounds to me like the state wants to impose those “burdensome” regulations anyway. Perhaps someone is finally realizing charters are not what they are cracked up to be.

Freedom Education

June 21st, 2010
8:00 pm

“Who should carry the biggest burden when it comes to monitoring individual schools”? Parents. When parents choose the schools, then they can make the right decisions for their children. The courts will handle who committed the crimes.

bootney farnsworth

June 21st, 2010
8:06 pm

the AJC will never, ever, willingly write a negative story
about black corruption in metro Atlanta.

between the obvious fact the AJC is extremely selective in
what it covers, it’s far left of center leanings, its often
base racial pandering, and a general unwillingness to do its
job…..

it’ll require a RICO charge before the AJC wades in.

Paulo977

June 21st, 2010
9:16 pm

I wonder ….GREAT question!

Maureen Downey

June 21st, 2010
9:19 pm

To Bootney and all else who bring up this same refrain:
These comments get so tiresome. May I point out that we wrote extensive pieces on Bill Campbell prior to the indictments. We have written about the black city council members in Atlanta who eventually went to prison. We wrote about shady dealings by several African-American legislators who were later charged.

I have to wonder about the motivation behind these comments, which could easily be dispelled by an archive search. Why isn’t the issue writing about corruption, period? Why do you have to do a head count to see if we are writing about as many black leaders as white? And why, for some of you, do we never write enough about black leaders doing wrong? I think we could have a front page story every week and we would still hear these complaints.

Maureen

Devil's Advocate

June 21st, 2010
10:07 pm

I’ll say what we’re all thinking: They are racist. Deeply racist and indicative of the deeply racist state we still live in.

They probably fit the classic racist profile: powerless, not successful, insecure, and looking to lash out and blame others so that they can feel a little bit better.

It is SO tiresome.

EducationCEO

June 21st, 2010
10:27 pm

I have been writing about the Commission’s ‘abilities’ or lack thereof for months. When they started telling minority groups that their boards were not qualified to oversee daily operations of charter schools, I knew something was fishy. To make matters worse, one of those denied groups has a former superintendent amongst its board members. If a former superintendent is not qualified to oversee the operations of a (single) charter school, what does that say about current superintendents? Before Georgia points the finger at any state or sensationalizes new legislative measures, it needs to investigate the motives of the Commission and Charter Schools Division. I will save you all the trouble and spell it out for you: If you are not with a private EMO/CMO, or if you do not have a bunch of successful and wealthy White people on your board, the chances of your charter being approved are slim-to-none. There, I said it and have evidence to back my statements.

Devil's Advocate

June 21st, 2010
10:49 pm

Oh, and Wonder and Paulo, that is some serious irresponsibility you’re spewing.

The real issue

June 21st, 2010
11:44 pm

“Why isn’t the issue writing about corruption, period?” The issue IS about corruption, period. Corruption YOU brought up.

Your EXACT words, if you don’t recall were “check back shortly” for a column on the E-Rate scandal.

Don’t your readers deserve an explanation as to why you suddenly sat on the story? In the absence of one, is it not legitimate to question your motives?

bootney farnsworth

June 21st, 2010
11:51 pm

@ Maureen,

you might try reading your own paper without your political blinders on.
sometimes your left of center bias, frankly, reeks. exhibit A would be your commentary on Ms. Farokhi, who you stated wouldn’t get serious consideration due to her last name.

if you are feeling a bit put upon, you might wish to consider we brought you issue after issue which the AJC didn’t wish to be bothered with – the non renewal of teachers in Gwinnett while claiming they weren’t letting folks go is a classic example. hell, we often do the AJC’s job for y’all, and you still can’t get organized.

sorry, but for those of us who’ve been here for more than 12 hours, we’ve seen how far the AJC has sunk, and how racially driven the stories often are.

why is race an issue? simple. this is Atlanta, and everything is
seen thru the lens of race. doubt me? do an archive search of your
own paper. this is THE most racially obsessed city in America, and to deny it is to deny the evidence of your own eyes.

I’d dearly love to see a story on the corruption in DeKalb and the
APS. both probably are due RICO investigations by the feds for systematic corruption. when the AJC gets around to doing some
serious reporting about it…..maybe we can.

bootney farnsworth

June 21st, 2010
11:51 pm

stuck in the damn filter again.
not at all suprised

bootney farnsworth

June 21st, 2010
11:52 pm

DA,

if you’ve got something to say, have the courage to say it.

bootney farnsworth

June 21st, 2010
11:56 pm

@ Maureen,

please understand, this is not about you specifically.
this is about the very strongly held opinion by a large segment of
Atlanta that the AJC does somewhere between a poor and indifferent
job.

I imagine folks working at the AJC are tired of hearing about it.
but the image of the AJC is one of a biased, advocatative publication.

The real issue

June 22nd, 2010
12:01 am

As far as the E-Rate scandal bootney, it is about her specifically, and whether or not she shows respect for her readers by explaining why she didn’t follow up as promised on the story, or whether she continues to show contempt for her readers by ignoring her own words.

educationdad

June 22nd, 2010
12:39 am

ok Ripner and the others have high profile careers, they do have a paid executive director who seems to be very competent. He went to Princeton, he ran a charter school. Would he not be competent to take complaints from a parent. Do you think the board members at APS actual get involve in staff level issues. I don’t think so….. no I know they don’t…

Maureen hoists herself on her own petard

June 22nd, 2010
3:58 am

“Her answer was “yes,” raising the possibility of unhappy parents trying to track down the seven commissioners – most of whom have full-time, high-profile careers — and get them to delve into a problem their child was having in a school in south Georgia. Frankly, I just couldn’t see it happening.”

But Maureen, if a local board member “delved into a problem” a child was having at school, wouldn’t you then turn right around and accuse them of micromanaging, and demand SACS be called in?

Oh what a tangled web we spill, when first we practice to be a shill.

Devil's Advocate

June 22nd, 2010
8:13 am

Said it Bootney, loud and clear. And since when do YOU speak for a “large segment of Atlanta”? That is a scary thought…

the prof

June 22nd, 2010
8:23 am

Maureen….very well stated!

Maureen Downey

June 22nd, 2010
9:45 am

@Maureen hoists, I would and I have. Feel free to read any of my editorials on school boards.
Maureen

Maureen Downey

June 22nd, 2010
9:50 am

@educationdad, I think that the addition of a paid employee for the commission will help the situation, but I still think there is a question of who parents can turn to in the event they are unhappy and feel that the local board of the charter is unresponsive. I have already had parents of commission charter schools call me and say that the local board of ed isn’t willing to talk to them and I explain that the school was not chartered or supported by the local board and that they have only two choices, the board of directors of the school or the state commission office.
Maureen

Maureen Downey

June 22nd, 2010
10:04 am

@bootney, I wrote about Dr. Farokhi and her unusual last name because several school board members from around the state mentioned her name to me as a problem when I was in Savannah at the school boards conference. They did not think folks in their rural communities would vote for someone with an unusual name that they probably had never seen before.
And I think she must be aware of the potential liability factor as her Web site is Bethforeducation.com. And I know that political sorts have pondered the issue as at least one told me that the thinking is that her down-home first name could cancel out her exotic last name.
I thought it was interesting that a person’s name was such an issue and I want voters to look beyond people’s names, which is why I thought it ought to be put on the table for discussion.
As for racially driven news, I get as many e-mails saying the AJC goes after minorities with too much vigor as I do from readers making your point.
So, as one of my journalist professors told me once, “If everyone is unhappy with you, you are doing something right.”
And please, let’s stop the nonsense about circulation drops. Every newspaper in the country is losing print readers because we now are confronting a readership that prefers its news online. (My oldest reads three newspapers a day, all online.)
The AJC has never had more readers; they are online readers, and they are in the millions. If you all want to judge news quality by readers, be my guest.
I have never had more readers in my career – I get e-mails from readers in England, Australia and Canada now on a regular basis. The problem is not that newspapers are losing readers. The problem is that newspapers began offering their content on the Internet for free and now we are reaping the problems that come with offering a very expensive product for no charge and having millions of people take you up on it.

Maureen

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 22nd, 2010
10:33 am

I echo EducationCEO’s comments regarding EMO/CMO’s and the special treatment they are afforded by local boards. This certainly the case within APS where KIPP is king and do no wrong.

@ Education Dad: You best believe the APS board don’t won’t want to here much in the way of compliants about the over polticized SOP that is the APS district office.

@ The Real Issue: Maureen has been quick to respond to Bootney’s ramblings but to your point and others, she has yet to give any guidence on why a issue with as big an impact as the ERATE situation in APS still hasn’t been further referenced on this blog as promised.

The real issue

June 22nd, 2010
10:36 am

@ The Real Issue: Maureen has been quick to respond to Bootney’s ramblings but to your point and others, she has yet to give any guidence on why a issue with as big an impact as the ERATE situation in APS still hasn’t been further referenced on this blog as promised

Advocate for change, I’m glad somebody has noticed, and will comment on it! If you promise to highlight and issue, and then you fail to follow up, and on top of it don’t hold yourself accountable for why you didn’t follow up, is this not a credibility issue?

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 22nd, 2010
10:37 am

@ Maureen, you have to admit that as with any election its all about the numbers. A strong enough showing in the major urban population of North Georgia could be sufficient to balance slimmer vote totals in more rural areas. I think reporters such as yourself have to be careful when reporting on candidates for elected office not to unfairly disenfranchise them by declaring to the public they can’t win. Anything is possible on a level playing field.

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 22nd, 2010
10:39 am

@ Maureen again: I’ll add that your conceptual dislike/distaste for charter schools is thinly veiled in your writing on the subject.

ChristieS.

June 22nd, 2010
10:56 am

Jeez…y’all quit whining about what Maureen covers or doesn’t cover here at GET SCHOOLED. This is a BLOG, not the internal pages of the newspaper. The AJC proper has more than one reporter to whom you may send your vitriol.

Devil's Advocate

June 22nd, 2010
11:01 am

@advocate – How is KIPP afforded any special treatment? Please elaborate.

You miss the point entirely, ChristieS.

June 22nd, 2010
11:03 am

The newspaper didn’t promise to “check back shortly”. A reporter didn’t promise to “check back shortly”. The BLOG MODERATOR promised to “check back shortly” for a story on the E-Rate scandal.

Devil's Advocate

June 22nd, 2010
11:13 am

@ You miss – You are SO annoying, go away.

Devil's Advocate

June 22nd, 2010
11:17 am

Maureen Downey

June 22nd, 2010
11:19 am

@An Advocate. Actually, I like charter schools. I don’t like the illusion that we can “charter school” our way to excellence. I don’t like the General Assembly’s wholesale embrace of charters while ignoring funding, teaching quality and other key issues.
A charter school is like any other school; its success depends on leadership, teacher quality and funding. Yet, the General Asselmby acted as if adding “charter” to a school’s name was the key.
I don’t like the pretense that creating good schools is a simple matter of flexibility. Schools had flexibility for decades when no one in state government cared much whether kids graduated.
And I have concerns about a commission that approved schools even over the concerns of its own evaluation panels.
That bothers me.
Maureen

The real issue

June 22nd, 2010
11:24 am

Why so evasive Maureen? It’s a simple question really. You said “check back shortly” for a column on the E-Rate scandal, then you didn’t deliver.

Aren’t you the SAME person who just asked if delaying a report will bring suspicion upon those doing the reporting? Won’t people legitimately wonder why you have suppressed this very important story?

Aren’t you doing the SAME thing, the people looking into the CRCT scandal doing?

You miss the point entirely, ChristieS.

June 22nd, 2010
11:26 am

Devil’s Advocate, nice to see you are also an advocate for the newspaper not holding itself accountable for delivering the very columns it promises to deliver.

Devil's Advocate

June 22nd, 2010
11:30 am

I’m an advocate for letting professionals, who know a whole heck of a lot more about something than I do, do their job as they see fit. I don’t believe in being an annoying, pompous jerk when I don’t fully understand the difficulties and intricacies of the situation.

From what I’ve seen on this blog, there is no shying away from difficult topics, just due diligence to make sure the job is done correctly. I, for one, appreciate that.

Maureen Downey

June 22nd, 2010
11:35 am

@The real issue, There is no effort on my part to dodge E-Rate. The problem — which I have discussed with the reporters — is that the AJC has studied contracts and the bidding process and raised questions about how the contracts were awarded. They are legitimate questions and deserve airing. (By the way, I wrote a lot in the past about the big E-rate investigation the AJC did years ago that led to a national change in policy and indictments of APS employees. It is not a topic with which I am unfamiliar.)
What we didn’t identify yet are any inducements as to why APS would have chosen the vendors it did. I am not sure what we would discuss on the E-Rate story now beyond the fact that the complex contract awarding process seemed to preclude some key vendors from applying. Could we speculate as to why? Yes, we could, but I prefer to wait for the next series of stories on this issue that might shed some light on motivations and whether anyone accrued any undue benefit from the process. (Beyond the folks who got the contracts.)
That is far from apparent yet, so we lack the facts to do much more than throw out unsubstantiated claims. As I read the story over — and it is a complex piece to relegate to a blog entry — I found that we still don’t have cause and effect. These contracts are not a simple matter; the reporters spend months going over them before reporting on them.
I know that you are probably ready to believe that there were inducements of some nature, but the facts aren’t there yet.
Maureen

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 22nd, 2010
11:42 am

@ Devil’s advocate: I’ll respond with the following example. KIPP recently submitted and had approved a charter application for a new High School. Months in advance of the application being approved KIPP representatives were going around the city announcing publically that the application was approved (before it was even submitted and voted upon). Furthermore, while they publically referenced a site for their new school, their offical applciation listed no physical site location at all.

Now maybe I’m seeing too much into things but it would appear KIPP was given assurances of approvals and contract acceptance before it was even submitted. Further, APS has consistantly rejected applications in the past for lack of an identifiable location. Not saying KIPP is bad, I’m just saying other groups aren’t able to operate so assured that unsubmitted applications WILL be approved.

Devil's Advocate

June 22nd, 2010
11:46 am

Sounds like KIPP officials might be guilty of optimism/arrogance, more than some grand conspiracy in APS. Plus, with KIPP’s track record, don’t they deserve that optimism?

The real issue

June 22nd, 2010
11:55 am

From Maureen concerning the E-Rate scandal

“Yes, we could, but I prefer to wait for the next series of stories on this issue that might shed some light on motivations and whether anyone accrued any undue benefit from the process.”

Well Maureen why didn’t you just say THAT in the first place instead of saying “check back shortly” and then not clearing THAT up when you were asked about it? You yourself just pointed out the suspicion that is raised when something is promised then not delivered did you not?

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 22nd, 2010
11:55 am

@ Maureen: I stand behinid my original comment. Furthermore, issue of public education funding and accountabily for academic outcomes hardly begins and ends with charter schools. These are concerns that exist across the public education arena. I agree that some degree of flexibilty in this implementation of programs to increase the quality and consistancy of academic outcomes has been present in law but has often fallen down in practice by local districts across the state.

Personally I have greater concern over the veracity of many local boards who are hell bent at circumventing any law produced by the General Assemby that seeks to interject real choice for families into the public education operational model.

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 22nd, 2010
12:03 pm

@Devil’s Advocate: I did not suggest in any way a “grand conspiracy” in APS. Second, if you read my comment closely I directly said the senerio I was describing wasn’t a suggestion that KIPP was bad or doing anything wrong necessarily. As for KIPP’s track record within APS, I know some families who would stand on either side of that arguement. Personally, I don’t have enough experience with them locally to form an intelligent opinion.

Quite frankly every local board from what my own observations have revealed seem to have their favorites. That was the original point made and I still agree with the premise. When it comes to APS how said favoritism is manifested in practice is legendary. The ERATE issue is another apparent example of the lengths to which APS will go to serve those within its inner circle.

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 22nd, 2010
12:04 pm

@ Devils Advocate: I did respond to you again but its likely caught up in the filter.

David S

June 22nd, 2010
12:26 pm

In the free market, each business is held accountable to the customers and the rest of the marketplace through the voluntary exchange of money for goods or services. Courts exist to address issues of fraud or force and otherwise the system handles itself.

Too many people honestly think the wonderful accountability they get in virtually every other product and service they purchase can be achieved through government control of the schools. Government is not accountable. Charter schools, which are just more government, are never going to be accountable. You cannot achieve that which is impossible. Only by being able to withdraw YOUR (meaning what you actually paid, not some ridiculous government created voucher) money and your child from the situation can you EVER hope to be able to have accountability in the delivery of educational services.

The rules of economics cannot be undone by words in a state constitution, or by majority vote.

Ole Guy

June 22nd, 2010
2:55 pm

On the topic of charter schools:

A recent AJC article highlighted a young man, I believe a 15 y/o high schooler, who attended a charter school…with concentrations for students aspiring toward careers in medicine…located in Jacksonville, Fl. I believe the young man, according to the article, had some bona fide medical suggestions…borne, no doubt, from the advanced studies he was privileged to undertake…for medical professionals here in ATL.

Apparently, this school was the only charter school of its kind within the US.

Maureen, in the interest of thorough reporting, could you please resurrect this fine article.

I find it quite incredible that only one state in this great Nation has the foresight and fiscal discipline to make available this type institution for young people whose academic and professional goals are clearly defined at such an early stage in their lives. While some states may suffer somewhat greater fiscal stress than others, it is a fair assessment that all states are experiencing difficulties to one degree or another. Yet one state, Florida, seems to have the legislative foresight to sponsor and foster this type of institution…at the high school level much less.

Maureen, I may have some facts slightly skewed, however, this entire educational concept…fostering primary education oriented toward medicine…is, I feel, worthy of thorough exploration.

catlady

June 22nd, 2010
3:09 pm

Anyone see the article in EdWeek today about a study about the KIPP academies FINANCED AND DESIGNED BY THE KIPP academies that found that THE KIPP ACADEMIES did very well in middle school education? Of course, the study, as designed, failed to take into account a number of very important confounding variables, BUT IT STILL FOUND POSITIVE EFFECTS FOR THE KIPP ACADEMIES. I was SO SURPRISED!

Devil's Advocate

June 22nd, 2010
3:47 pm

Since you’re such an expert on everything catlady, what was left out of the study? What will it take for you to just once say something positive about anything?