Charter school accountability debate

Yesterday, the California Charter Schools Association caused a stir. The pro-charter group came out with a list of 10 independently-run schools it deemed underperforming — and encouraged their respective school districts to close them when their 5-year contracts expire!

That list included West County Community High in Richmond, as my colleague Hannah Dreier reported in today’s paper. Leadership High in San Francisco was also on it.

The complete list included 31 schools, but the association only published the names of those that are nearing the end of their 5-year terms and seeking a charter renewal.

Here’s the reasoning behind the mov, from the news release:

“We cannot have an honest discussion about education reform and increasing accountability without closing the charters that have demonstrated an inability to meet the challenge of excellence–granted to us by law–and chronically underperform. Our accountability framework has been pressure tested, analyzed and deliberated thoroughly. The time to act on persistently low-performing schools is now, because our children’s education cannot be put on the back-burner,” said Myrna Castrejón, senior vice president, Achievement and Performance Management, CCSA.

The “call for non-renewal” was criticized by another state charter group, the Charter Schools Development Center. The center put out a statement today, noting flaws in California’s testing system and arguing that renewal decisions should not be purely based on test scores.

What do you make of all this?

To meet the association’s minimum standard, a school needs to have one of these three things (copied directly from the news release):

  • Academic Performance Index (API) score of at least 700 in most recent year
  • 3-year cumulative API growth of at least 50 points (2010-11 growth + 2009-10 growth + 2008-09 growth)
  • Within range of or exceeding predicted performance based on similar student populations statewide, for at least two out of the last three years, based on CCSA’s metric, the Similar Students Measure.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://close.net Check It Out

    Close the underperforming charter schools now. Totally.

    Why even discuss this? Charters have fewer limitations than district schools and should be able to serve students very well. CLOSE THEM.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Check It Out:

    The closing underperforming charter schools is not the question but the struggle is over how to define underperforming.

    Current law (Ed Code 47607) provides after five years the following basis for an authorizing authority not to renew a charter:

    “(c) A charter may be revoked by the authority that granted the charter under this chapter if the authority finds, through a showing of substantial evidence, that the charter school did any of the
    (1) Committed a material violation of any of the conditions, standards, or procedures set forth in the charter.
    (2) Failed to meet or pursue any of the pupil outcomes identified in the charter.
    (3) Failed to meet generally accepted accounting principles, or engaged in fiscal mismanagement.
    (4) Violated any provision of law.
    (d) Prior to revocation, the authority that granted the charter shall notify the charter public school of any violation of this section and give the school a reasonable opportunity to remedy the violation, unless the authority determines, in writing, that the
    violation constitutes a severe and imminent threat to the health or safety of the pupils.”

    The proposed change reflects test and punish that tries to create through high stakes testing the goal of education is to increase test scores.

    •Academic Performance Index (API) score of at least 700 in most recent year
    •3-year cumulative API growth of at least 50 points (2010-11 growth + 2009-10 growth + 2008-09 growth)
    •Within range of or exceeding predicted performance based on similar student populations statewide, for at least two out of the last three years, based on CCSA’s metric, the Similar Students Measure.

    While I just want to get rid of charter schools as a bad public policy that shifts the goals of education from a multiple of outcomes, including maximizing development of students’ skills and abilities, to maximizing increasing students test scores, the current system doesn’t operationally define under-performance. The proposed rigor gives authorizing authorities increased opportunity to non-renew charter schools. The opposition doesn’t want performance rigorously defined.

    There are two justifications for creating public school charter school competition. One theory is choice and the market will over time sort out and find quality. The other theory in support of charter schools competition being a good thing is that there must be rigor based on a metric to sort out and find quality schools.

    To me both justifications are wrong. If choice is used, then advertisement will distort identifying quality. And employing a metric has problems with accuracy, cheating, and narrowing curriculum to passing a test, while positive or negative test score becomes a student’s identity.

    Another negative is that charter schools grow at the expense of public schools and that growth, as seen in Oakland, causes closure of neighborhood schools and creates instability in school districts.

    The existing charter school laws allows those wanting to renew to put their best data forward and claim to be a high performing school when greater rigor in the law in defining performance would increase instability in public school districts.

    But, if the legislature took care in what it asked for, it wouldn’t have asked to create a competition to public schools called charter schools.

    Jim Mordecai

  • J.R.

    What do you say to the fact that:

    1. Many public schools and or school districts have been failing for multiple decades.

    2. Within the education system there is no incentive to improve and excel, only longevity iron clad job security is sought.

    3. Many of the rights and privileges accorded those who work in the education system are protected by multiple layers of fed, state law and union contract(the point being that the public and or their representatives have to get cooperation from the very people that they seek changes from), which results in no change at all.

    Bear in mind charters have only been around since the early 90’s and school have been struggling(to say the least) decades before that.

    So, my question is should we have continued to trust that the system would change itself on it’s own?

    What would you have done to correct this?

  • J.R.

    You contention that charter schools grow at the expense of public schools is not entirely accurate.


    look at the chart and see where the students are going, and the money follows them. The biggest chunk of money went to private,home-school or out of district altogether.

  • Jim Mordecai


    According to the chart you referenced you are right in saying ousd decline was not entirely caused by charter school growth.

    The second footnote on the chart I quote: “*approximately half of the enrollment decline has been absorbed by charter schools.”

    Neither public schools nor charter schools enroll those moving out of the district’s attendance area. Therefore, more than fifty percent of the charter school growth is dependent on Oakland Public Schools. It is unknown to me what percentage of private school enrollment feeds charter schools but I would guess it is increasing with the current down economy. Home schooling has to my knowledge never been a large number in Oakland or most places although the net makes that option more attractive.

    I believe it is mistaken public policy to label low scoring schools as failures. Superintendent Smith’s full service community schools concept I believe is based, not on labeling schools low scoring, but attempting to bridge poverty with services so students without equal resources can achieve. This was the Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty approach. The achievement gaps among groups relates to poverty first and foremost; and, to make test score labeling the be all of education policy is, both unjust, and a form of class oppression. It was the Bush/Kennedy Title I NCLB education policy that turned Johnson’s War on Poverty on its earn and brought forth testing and label of failure for those publicly whipped for being a school with the lowest in achievement. And, it was Bush that won from Kennedy the privatization of public education by charter schools.

    Therefore, I don’t accept as fact that many schools and school districts have been failing for many years.
    I believe however that it is a fact that there is a class structure and the achievement gap is a reflection of that class structure.

    To address the achievement gap I believe requires not branding schools as failure but reform of the tax structure to make it more progressive. And, a guarantee income for every American family that enable all American families to be housed and provided medical coverage. Governmental support would help close the achievement gap between those groups poorly housed and without proper medical coverage.

    However,such a progressive dream is currently held hostage to American foreign policy. For unemployment at home is collateral damage caused by commitment to perpetual war as a means of defending Corporate America and the 1%’s power.

    Jim Mordecai

  • lisa

    These charter schools often dump children back into the true Public Schools when they do not like their behavior and/or achievement. Oh the irony.

  • J.R.

    In reality, do you know what government support gets you? It gets you exponentially more people(parents and children (ad-infinitum) that are dependent on the government and taxpayers. Do you know what that gets you? An unsustainable system where in California we have 38% of all the people in the USA who are on public assistance of one type or another. This was happening long before the economic meltdown, so the blame does not rest solely there. You need to remember that the only way to wipe out poverty is jobs, and most meaningful non taxpayer subsidized jobs are created by small business people who risk,investing time and money into an opportunity to succeed. They will not risk money(they would be foolish if they did)where conditions are not right to thrive. Government and politicians do not create jobs(other than make-work) they simply appropriate money from people who do so. Everyone focuses on the corporate wealthy dogs(and I agree that they are a problem), but the fact is most jobs in this country are created by hard working small business people.


  • Steven Weinberg

    I oppose the use of test scores as the primary method of evaluating either charter or regular public schools. The API is primarily a measure of the skills students already had before entering a school, not what they learned at that school. The standards that California Charter Schools Association are suggesting would result in the closure of any charter school that aimed at helping those students most in need, and it would encourage more charter schools to target only the most able students.

  • J.R.

    “a guarantee income for every American family that enable all American families to be housed and provided medical coverage”. This would be totally unworkable, and not solely from a financial standpoint. While I agree the income disparity is obscene by some accounts, that is part and parcel of capitalism. We’ve seen Communism and it doesn’t work at all(people have to be practically imprisoned within it), and are not free to come and go as they please. If everyone were taken care just as you said imbalances would quickly surface(those who could not or would not work, those that had more kids than they could support) as an example would bring the system to the brink of collapse.

  • http://close.net Check It Out

    yawn. test scores are not the only measure. of course not. how to account for poverty in grading schools–check the scores BEFORE the teacher/school and compare them to the scores AFTER the teacher/school.

    genreally, lousy schools garner lousy test scores. i agree with JR that the current system is failing kids and it’s not changing and it reinforces the status-quo of a system that favors adult union rights over poor kids’ futures.

    charter schools should be able to get great test results. if they don’t shut them down.

    you guys are splitting hairs. good teachers can even teach poor kids. they teach them very well and it shows in test scores and in classroom observations. this is such a tired conversation because the answer is so obvious. if the school or teacher is bad, move on to a school teacher that is good. c’mon!

  • Jim Mordecai

    Check It Out:

    Thank you for making my point of disagreement. For using the metric of subtraction of student scores on first blush is a no brainer, a “yawn”; but, evaluation of teachers by the metric of student test scores, for purpose of accurately identifying the teacher that is “bad”, is not simple or a yawn.

    There are all kinds of reasons for not being able to keep teacher evaluation, or school evaluation, as simple as pre and post testing of student scores. This reductionist approach suffers from NOT having tests that reliably identify the bad teacher. Teachers identified by student test scores bad one year are good the next and vice versa. And, because the reductionist approach to the problem of evaluation appears to be a cheap way to evaluate schools and teachers, cost becomes a driver of the method of evaluation rather than any, and all other, community valued education outcomes. Also, the current testing emphasis has resulted in a narrowing of curriculum to what is easiest to test and purpose of education has become defined as test score improvement.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Makeitgoaway

    Yikes! Bad charters should go away. these are profit centers for their sponsors. The real reason charters fail is not teachers but families, or lack of same.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Steve Weinberg:

    Your comment below in opposition to using test scores as the “primary method of evaluating public or charter schools” makes so much sense.

    “I oppose the use of test scores as the primary method of evaluating either charter or regular public schools. The API is primarily a measure of the skills students already had before entering a school, not what they learned at that school. The standards that California Charter Schools Association are suggesting would result in the closure of any charter school that aimed at helping those students most in need, and it would encourage more charter schools to target only the most able students.”

    Yet, your common sense statement flies in the face of the intent of the people that wrote California’s charter school law. The charter school law requires for petitioners creating charter schools to accept a bargain: in exchange for being freed from the dictates of the education code, deregulate charter schools agree to be evaluated based on their students’ performance. The charter schools existence, in theory, is test scored based–perform or perish.

    The authors of California charter school law were trying to create an independent education system that competes with the public school system so the competition will make both systems better. The method of evaluation of public and charter schools was intended to be primarily test score based. The lobbying to make test scores primarily the method of evaluation fits with the belief in a market system the authors of charter school law held from the beginning.

    A market system does not function without a metric such as test scores. In Viet Nam the metric wasn’t test scores, but body counts. And, decisions based on that metric ended in America’s defeat.

    Perhaps Viet Nam is a cautionary tale for creating a metric when not appropriate. However, I believe NCLB requirement of using test data to label schools, teachers, and students, may in the long run, be a metric more damaging than the body count from the Viet Nam war.

    Jim Mordecai

  • http://lazearelementary.org Kareem Weaver

    The previous comment is absolutely ridiculous. Comparing the near-60k deaths in Vietnam to the use of standardized tests to measure schools, teachers, and students… is so fatuous that I am reluctant to take it seriously.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Kareem Weaver:

    You may agree or not agree that the body count metric lead to continuing a policy that was unwise in Viet Nam. My point was not to compare student low test scores with the thousands of dead soldiers from both sides and civilians killed.

    My point is that I believe management by body count, and management by test data are bad management policy during Viet Nam and bad management policy today.

    I am not comparing humans with test scores but the management by objectives mentality evident in the conduct of the war in Viet Nam to education reforms of today that want to link test scores of students to teacher and school evaluations.

    It isn’t that management by objective doesn’t work but that it works too well with decisions being driven by data that distort management decision making.

    Perhaps some will agree with me that body count data in Viet Nam lengthened our stay. Some may also agree with me that it has also been documented that the Viet Nam body count data was often inflated.

    I argue that it is reliance on body counts as high stakes data that contributed to the decision to escalate the Viet Nam war and prolonged our stay.

    Management by objective gained much of its military, governmental, and education management, popularity with Robert Strange McNamara, Secretary of Defense (1961-68) during the Viet Nam War. I remember 61-63, as I was an enlisted man in the Air Force when management by objective, and the computer wizards employed by Defense Secretary McNamara, brought in their management changes to the Air Force base I was assigned. After being discharged and finishing college with the help of the G.I. Bill, I was teaching in Oakland in the late 60s when the paper work associated with management by objectives became part of California teacher evaluation under what was called the Stull Bill. I connected the Stull Bill to the management by objectives that came into the military management systems introduced by Secretary McNamara.
    Viet Nam could have been fought without a body count metric and it is my speculation that it contributed to lengthening the war. But, those of us that found that war a bad decision, its body count metric can be viewed as a dehumanizing element of a management system that encouraged killing to provide evidence for continuing that war.

    I believe test data like body counts leads management to poor decision making.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Livegreen

    So no data or metrics?

    Critical thinking = linking education to the lessons of the Vietnam war and concluding test data and scores are wrong based on that war?

    We are truly living in bizarro liberal land. For a moderate like myself what is frustrating with this line of discussion is I agree with some elements of both Jim and JR’s talking points. But rather than this discussion turning to finding either the accurate elements of each, or practical solutions, the discussion veers totally off course into an entirely different topic. If we continue that thread I have no doubt it will veer off again before any conclusions or progress is made.

    Welcome to Oakland, where nothing ever gets accomplished and progress is never made. (Good time to discuss the other meaning of “progressive”…).

  • Livegreen

    I agree that it is unfair to teachers to hold them accountable for the all of the failings of student’s families. However that does not mean their should be no accountability.

    Likewise for the families, where there is even less accountability.

    I agree with the principle of effective community schools, and surrounding poorer families with basic services. But ONLY if this is done with foundation & grant money to pay for such services, & maybe some degree of Facilities Bond money, as long as it’s not taking away from the education and Facilities Bond money of Middle Income kids (who generally also don’t have enough money to go to Private School).

    That’s the middle ground Tony Smith has to thread. To do it OUSD & Oakland need to both maintain the Middle Class AND publicize the foundation/grant money so taxpayers know they’re not the only ones paying for it while getting comparatively little advantage (the reason so many of us are forced to move).

    To date the media has only reported on, I believe, one Foundation Grant supporting Dr. Smith’s Full Service Community Schools. Is that accurate? If there have been more, what are they?

    & back to scores and standards, let’s come up with both a way to accurately account for good teaching AND active family support that is fair to all. It is possible to improve, but only through critical thinking (which teachers like to so often post about on this blog).

    No testing vs. testing that only holds teachers accountable are not the only two options. The challenge is to accurately disect the shades of grey…

  • J.R.

    The discussion always deviates because:

    1. There are many policies and life choices that directly responsible for the problems we face(liberals mistakenly believe that we can shape peoples habits tendencies and lives given the resources)always remember that over 50% of the 99% survive through other peoples(less than 50% of the 99%) hard work.

    2. The root causes of those problems are not dealt with in any substantive way(teen pregnancy,juvenile crime, welfare dependency and on and on)except to keep on propagating it through policy.

    If people desire good metrics for teacher accountability how about just worrying about the inferior ones first:

    Those that have historically,repeatedly and habitually taken inordinate amounts of time off. Those that cannot or will not follow(even loosely)the curriculum and pacing guides, and instead choose to teach whatever and whenever they see fit. It is far easier to take care of the worst teachers first, and then move on.