"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

MO Lawmakers Make Way For More Charters

Yesterday the senate passed SB 576 which expands opportunities for charters within the state. In addition to allowing them in unaccredited and provisionally accredited districts, the bill allows local school districts to sponsor charter schools (meaning they could now be anywhere in the state.) The bill also attempts to make charters more accountable so that problems, like those with Imagine Schools in St. Louis, do not happen again.

Some interesting provisions in the bill (awaiting the governor's signature):

  • A description of the charter school's policies on student discipline and student admission, which shall include a statement, where applicable, of the validity of attendance of students who do not reside in the district but who may be eligible to attend under the terms of judicial settlements - a nod to the continued limbo of the Turner decision.
  • A description of the charter school's grievance procedure for parents or guardians- these don''t always exist for the parents in public schools. Nice to see they will be required by charter schools.
  •  The sponsor of a charter school shall give priority to charter school applicants that propose a school oriented to high-risk* students and to the reentry of dropouts into the school system. If a sponsor grants three or more charters, at least one-third of the charters granted by the sponsor shall be to schools that actively recruit dropouts or high-risk students as their student body and address the needs of dropouts or high-risk students through their proposed mission, curriculum, teaching methods, and services. One constant complaint about charters is that they cherry pick their students and toss those students who are problematic. This would give some priority for schools who would like to specifically help those students. It does not guarantee that such charters will exist, but it will be interesting to watch whether any apply.
*For purposes of this subsection, a "high-risk" student is one who is at least one year behind in satisfactory completion of course work or obtaining [credits for graduation, pregnant or a parent, homeless or has been homeless sometime within the preceding six months, has limited English proficiency, has been suspended from school three or more times, is eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch, or has been referred by the school district for enrollment in an alternative program high school credits for graduation, has dropped out of school, is at risk of dropping out of school, needs drug and alcohol treatment, has severe behavioral problems, has been suspended from school three or more times, has a history of severe truancy, is a pregnant or parenting teen, has been referred for enrollment by the judicial system, is exiting incarceration, is a refugee, is homeless or has been homeless sometime within the preceding six months, has been referred by an area school district for enrollment in an alternative program, or qualifies as high risk under department of elementary and secondary education guidelines.
  • At high risk schools Student performance shall be based on sponsor-approved comprehensive measures as well as standardized public school measures. A glimmer of reality for these students? They may not be able to meet performance targets of regular public school students.  This language might give the charter schools a little wiggle room to set separate (and more appropriate) performance targets for the most challenging students.
Some areas for concern:
  • Proposed or existing high risk or alternative charter schools may include alternative arrangements for students to obtain credit for satisfying graduation requirements in the school's charter application and charter. Alternative arrangements may include, but not be limited to, credit for off-campus instruction, embedded credit, work experience through an internship arranged through the school, and independent studies. This will merit close watching. Charters may be tempted to use as many of these as possible with their toughest cases in order to meet graduation targets. Those students may not have been pushed hard enough in their regular academic work and may graduate with lower actual skills as a result.
  • Charters must define what services they can provide for children with disabilities. Such services must comply with IDEA guidelines. It does not require that charter schools provide these services. This has been a problem with charters in other states like Louisiana where none of them accept children with disabilities because they do not have the staff to work with such children.
  • The charter application must provide clear documentation that the education program and academic program are aligned with the state standards and grade level expectations. This means the same Common Core Standards that are in the regular public schools. Same material, just a different location for delivery. Not necessarily an improvement.
See full text of the bill here.

All of the accountability measures mean that someone must be watching what charters are doing. Don't count on your legislator or DESE to be that on top of things. Now that charters could be coming to your district, it will be incumbent upon district tax payers to keep an eye on what the school board is doing with its charter school and use the tools provided by this type of legislation to address problems.

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