In my recent policy brief arguing for a reboot of charter school governance, I said that states need to create the right policy environment to ensure that management companies aren’t acting as puppeteers determining all the moves of a charter school and controlling the governing boards that ought to be in charge. When boards are mere rubber stamps, questions about accountability, incentives, and conflicts of interest are sure to follow (look at the calamity that has befallen the American Indian Model charter schools in California to see how an ineffectual and subservient board can crash even the highest flying charter).
But as my colleague Kathryn Mullen Upton pointed out yesterday, there’s plenty of blame to go around when problems like this surface. Charter boards that agree to arrangements that effectively make them subordinate to managers and vendors are as much at fault, said Upton, who oversees the Fordham Foundation’s charter authorizing operations in Ohio. Moreover, authorizers that grant a charter without even looking at the management agreement bear responsibility, too.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has recommended policies that explicitly assert the independence of the boards that ordinarily hold the charter and ultimately answer to the public. These include performance contracts that not only show how a board will assess a vendor’s performance but will terminate the contract if necessary. And there ought to be laws, just as in Florida, that explain
We heard a lot about the role school choice can play in education reform this week at Jeb Bush’s National Summit (Bush himself called choice the “catalytic converter” of reform). But while the 900 people in attendance rhapsodized about transforming models of education delivery, there was little talk about how one state is trying to enhance choice by unbundling public education.
Gov. Rick Snyder unveiled a draft bill that would institutionalize choice and blended learning.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
To be sure, up until just this month, Michigan governor Rick Snyder has mostly sloganeered about school models that could impact students “any time, any place, any way, any pace.” But two weeks ago, Snyder unveiled a 302-page draft bill that would institutionalize choice and blended learning in ways that chip away at the artificial boundaries that have historically defined public education in Michigan and beyond.
But for some reason, Snyder can’t generate the national buzz that has inspired education reformers the way Mitch Daniels has done in neighboring Indiana or the way Bobby Jindal has done in Louisiana. That’s perplexing, because what Snyder is proposing is perhaps more transformative than what any of his peers have so far established in statute.
Education reformers might be tempted to think they can claim victory in Michigan because voters overwhelmingly rejected a push from the teacher unions and others to engrave collective bargaining in the state constitution. Surely, the unions overreached here, but they won elsewhere on Election Day in the Wolverine State.
Education reform in Michigan suffered a crucial setback on Tuesday.
Or, more specifically, in Detroit, Highland Park, and Muskegon Heights—all of them school districts that have become educational wastelands and where the state had installed emergency managers to take control and (more importantly) to tear up union contracts to get the job done. In Highland Park and Muskegon Heights, that meant converting the school districts into charter-school districts. In Detroit, it meant keeping power out of the hands of a school board that one newspaper columnist said was “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence.”
This week, 53 percent of the state’s voters repealed the emergency-manager law, a victory for public-employee unions (teachers included, of course) that had spent the summer gathering signatures to put the question on the ballot. And that may unravel the boldest measures undertaken by these managers.
Detroit’s emergency chief, Roy Roberts, technically maintains control over the district’s budget, but he wrote to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder this week indicating that he may soon step down due to the response of voters, despite the fact that he feared progress in Detroit Public Schools would be “virtually impossible”
The Milwaukee voucher program remains one of the most tightly-regulated school choice programs of its kind in the nation, and it deserves better than the sloppy conclusions of Diane Ravitch. In a blog post earlier this week, Ravitch noted—correctly—that tougher standards applied to the Wisconsin state test went badly for all Milwaukee students, especially voucher recipients (just 10 percent of whom were proficient in reading, compared to 15 percent of their district peers). But then she reports that legislation expanding the Milwaukee choice program to Racine absolved private schools of the requirement that they administer the state tests to their voucher-bearing students. “Therefore,” she writes, “their proficiency rate will not be known or reported.”
Wisconsin has made a lot of progress in holding its voucher program more accountable.
This is absolutely untrue. For the past few years, students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program have had to take the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination (WKCE), which is the same test administered to all public school students. When the Wisconsin legislature expanded the voucher program to Racine last year, nothing changed this requirement. In fact, test results for private schools in Racine and Milwaukee, as well as for public schools throughout Wisconsin, were recently recalculated to comply with a higher standard of proficiency. Those results are available to the public here—and they’ll continue to be made public.
What has changed is the release of a report card that assessed public schools using measures
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
June 13, 2013
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