by Max Brantley
Hold the phone on the developing narrative on the success of New Orleans charter schools. Here an account of child abuse and cheating.
New Times-Picayune reporting underscores a point I tried to make to Heritage Foundation people in town yesterday to tout a new drive for school vouchers and still more charter schools in Arkansas. "Choice" schools are not necessarily better schools, just because it's an article of Billionaire Boys Club faith that it must be so. But it gets worse. Charter schools are effectively self-regulating. That don't have publicly elected school boards. The pattern nationally — and until recently in Arkansas — is that they haven't gotten the same scrutiny from regulators that conventional public schools get. They can claim superiority and who's around to argue with them? From Louisiana where cheating may have arisen from breaches of test security:
But the real shocker in the story is that State DOE policies for handling alleged breaches of test security almost encourage systematic cover-up of violations. That's because once the Department determines that violations of test policy may have occurred, they turn the investigation over to the local school system, for their recommendations and possible corrective actions including the voiding of test scores. As the testing experts quoted in the story point out, "there is a conflict of interest all the way up the line in investigating such allegations". Such conflict is even more pronounced in the case of charter schools that function as their own local school systems. Such schools often have hand picked boards of directors picked by the charter organizers who often serve as the administrators for the charter who are often the very people implicated in the cheating allegations!
The complaints of possible cheating were made by a group of teachers who said they were given the questionable practice materials by their administrators. The students had alerted the teachers to the claim that the practice questions were almost identical to the actual test. But when the school Directors conducted their investigation of the matter they did not bother to question a single teacher about the allegations. They only questioned the administrators. No wonder they concluded there was no wrongdoing!
One of the experts consulted by the reporter said that this process is like the IRS telling a taxpayer: "We have a problem with your tax return. Would you look it over?"
If Republicans like Baptist school fund-raiser David Sanders can get legislation sending tax money to church schools, will the state be able to get into classrooms, look at test scoring for erasures and otherwise be confident that they are getting same regulation and meeting same standards as other schools? Florida will be cited by advocates in Arkansas. They won't tell you this.
PS — Diane Ravitch outlines the failure of the reform movement and emphasizes how the reformers overlook poverty in student performance while pinning blame on teachers.