Accountability California Charter Schools Education Industry Failure

Funding Failure in Oakland: Charter Schools Are Floundering

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In Oakland, California, a grand jury impaneled to investigate the oversight of charter schools reported that the schools were performing poorly and needed better management and more supervision. Despite results like this, the California State Board of Education, the legislature, and Governor Jerry Brown acquiesce to every demand of the California Charter Schools Association. CCSA has a rich PAC which they use to eliminate candidates who don’t support continued expansion of their private sector. They want more and more charter schools, no matter how pathetic their performance. At what point does evidence matter?

Although charter schools were intended to be an educational antidote to the city’s struggling traditional public schools, many of the city’s charter schools aren’t outperforming their district-run counterparts, and on average, performed worse last year in statewide results, according to an Alameda County grand jury report released this week.

The grand jury, which looked into Oakland Unified School District’s oversight of the city’s 37 charter schools, found that 19 scored below district averages for both charter and traditional schools in mathematics in statewide test results. And 17 charter schools scored below the district average in English. The panel reported that 15 charters scored below the district averages in both categories.

Measured against the state, the results are more troubling: 62 percent, or 23 of the city’s charter schools, scored below state averages in math, and 65 percent, 24 schools, scored below the state averages in English, according to results from the 2015 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, which replaced the API scores of previous years. Many of the schools performed similarly on past API tests, the report stated.

For that reason and a host of others, the panel recommended that Oakland Unified adopt a more rigorous oversight and approval process when authorizing and reauthorizing charter schools in the city. It also urged the district to increase its staffing at the Office of Charter Schools and to increase the number of on-site visits to charter schools and their board meetings to ensure stronger accountability, including fiscal and governance oversight, since they are funded on the taxpayer’s dime.

Here is a link to the Grand Jury report:

Here are highlights:

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is comprised of 95 K-12 schools with an enrollment of approximately 48,000 students. Of the public schools within the city of Oakland, thirty-seven (37) are charter schools with a total enrollment of approximately 12,000 students. This represents nearly 25% of the total enrollment of the district.

However, the autonomy and independence granted to charter schools come at a cost. Charters operate without the same scrutiny as their district counterparts by the tax paying public. For example, a charter may change curricula, teaching methods, and budget allocation without approval from the authorizing district superintendent or the elected school board. They are also able to determine their own achievement standards, accountability, and systems of discipline or transfers between schools.

Using the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Test Results for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics for 2015, the Grand Jury determined that of the 37 Oakland charter schools that participated, 17 scored below the blended average of all Oakland unified public schools and 24 scored below the statewide average in English. Nineteen scored below OUSD averages and 23 scored below the statewide average in mathematics. Within these results, there were 15 Oakland charter schools that scored below OUSD averages in both categories. Many of these charter schools have been in Oakland for years and scored similarly on the previous API tests that are no longer in use.

The Grand Jury acknowledges that test scores are not the only measure of success, as many other factors such as school culture and non-academic support personnel, must be taken into consideration. Nevertheless, it is a concern that some charters are not achieving expected results and yet may still be re-authorized.

Current legislation requires the authorizer to “monitor fiscal condition” of charters, but beyond an annual financial audit, there is no oversight of charter school’s long term financial planning or budgeting.

This growth in charter schools has altered the original intention of the charter movement from “experimental laboratories” to one that attempts to address the sub-par results in district schools.

Funding for special education services in each region is provided by the state on a per student basis. In 2010, the state allowed charter schools to withdraw from their SELPA district, and join any other such district they chose. Twenty-five of Oakland’s 37 charter schools withdrew from the Oakland SELPA reducing the funds available.

Because a SELPA district is intended to form collaborations and share special needs education resources across many schools, the departure from its SELPA of so many charter schools resulted in fewer funds for OUSD that still must serve the same broad range of special needs students including those with the most severe needs. The Grand Jury heard testimony that individual charter schools have fewer severely disabled students. The Grand Jury views this as creating an inequity for special needs students in Oakland’s district schools.

The OUSD Office of Charter Schools is understaffed and underfunded. Although they are managing to successfully comply with the current laws, it will be increasingly difficult to ensure the future success of the charter school program in the city of Oakland.

The state provides a formula for authorizer staffing levels that would require 13 full time employees to support Oakland’s charter schools. Current staffing was recently raised from five to six people.

There is no reporting or tracking to monitor potential wrongful expulsion or dismissal of “less desirable” students by charter schools.

The Grand Jury heard testimony that some charter schools may counsel a student to leave that school for a variety of reasons including recurrent misbehavior or lack of achievement. Witnesses testified that this procedure would be unknown were it not for “whistleblowers.”
A charter school is governed by a board of directors that is not publicly elected. Members of such a board may have no expertise in education or have any particular qualifications for that role.

There is no requirement that the superintendent of the school district, or any member of the elected school board, attend charter school board meetings. The only oversight is through the current authorization and renewal process that requires some site visits throughout the school year.

There is no plan in place in OUSD to manage the proliferation of charter schools and no policy in place to manage or regulate growth. Such a plan would include facilities management, safety standards, and expected student outcomes.

There is no plan in place in OUSD to manage the proliferation of charter schools and no policy in place to manage or regulate growth. Such a plan would include facilities management, safety standards, and expected student outcomes.

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