Wednesday, October 28, 2015

With Federal Millions, “Wild West” of Charters Is about to Get Even Wilder | PR Watch

With Federal Millions, “Wild West” of Charters Is about to Get Even Wilder | PR Watch:

With Federal Millions, “Wild West” of Charters Is about to Get Even Wilder

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has announced the winners of the next round of state (SEA) grants under the quarter-billion-dollar-a-year Charter Schools Program (CSP) designed to boost the charter sector.
While eight state departments of education shared a $125-million pot of federal taxpayer money for 2015, the biggest recipient by far for this round of grants is Ohio. It landed a whopping $32.6 million grant to the dismay of public school advocates.
With its lax-to-non-existent charter school laws, and vast number of unaccountable authorizers, Ohio has long been an embarrassment even to the charter school industry.
“It’s more broken than the Wild West,” a spokesperson for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers told Cleveland’s Plain Dealer last year.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?

But as CMD has documented, ED has never quite decided whether to bet on the sheriff or the outlaw in its approach to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides for the federal largesse that has fueled the charter school industry, even with its numerous failures.
To a certain extent, the charter school funding mechanisms were designed to reward “lawlessness”—that is, states in which authorizers call the shots while the departments of education act like banks or conduits for cash but lack any real statutory authority to hold the ultimate recipients accountable. This comes under the mantle of “flexibility” recited by charter advocates.
This flexibility has been a recipe for disaster in state after state, but Ohio—which has already received CSP grants of nearly $125 million—offers a particularly bleak picture.
CMD conducted a review of the schools in the Buckeye State that were awarded money under the 2007-2011 grant cycle, and found that:
  • Out of the 88 schools created by the grant money, at least 15 closed within a few years (this is a conservative estimate based on Ohio's Closed School Directory; the status of some of the other schools remains unclear)–but not before pocketing more than $4.9 million (out of a total $32.6 million) in planning and implementation grants.
  • Seven charter schools never even opened to students.
  • The majority of the schools that remain open scored in the bottom 16 percent (letter grades D-F) on the 2014 Ohio Performance Index, as measured by student performance on state assessments.

As Accountability Scandal Rocks Ohio...

This time around, however, things are bound to be different, right?
Such was the optimism of Nadya Dabby, assistant deputy secretary with ED. When asked by Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post why the state “with multiple charter school problems received the biggest federal grant,” she assured her that Ohio has improved its oversight of charters.
“Although,” noted Layton, “she could not provide details.”
But a look at documents released yesterday shows that the reviewers contracted by ED to score the applications have
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