As D.C.'s charter movement rolls on full steam ahead, a couple of negative news stories are threatening to derail a wheel or two.
The first involved accusations of cheating regarding the annual DC CAS examinations. As you may remember four charter schools were found to have critical violations in the way the test was administered. This top category of infraction, as explained by the D.C. Public Charter School Board's executive director Scott Pearson, "includes test tampering or academic fraud." The charters involved included Arts and Technology Academy, Community Academy Amos 1 campus, Imagine Hope Community Lamond campus, and Meridian.
For the first three schools only one classroom was involved. But for Meridian the problem was much deeper. Five classrooms in grades four, five, and six were implicated that instruct over 40 percent of all students. Last June, the PCSB accepted a 10 part action plan to correct the problem, which included terminating the principal.
In today's Washington Post Jay Matthews says that this may have not have been enough. He wants to know whether teachers who were involved in cheating are still there. Meridian is refusing to provide this information.
Then last week, Options PCS executives and its board chair were accused of diverting over $3 million in public funds to private companies that they control. The school received a positive review of its finances by three government offices, including the PCSB, just last July.
One way to prevent future instances of these anomalies in the operation of charters is to link standardized testing and financial performance to the Performance Management Framework.
Going forward any school that is found to have critical violations regarding administration of the DC CAS should be reduced by one Tier level. For example, a Tier 2 school identified as cheating on the standardized test would be reduced to Tier 3. A school already in Tier 3 would be placed on charter warning. Institutions that fall into Tier 3 for three of the last five years are subject to closure. I am confident this policy would get the attention of school leaders and their boards.
The PMF was originally supposed to include a financial and governance component. As difficult as this may be to develop we need to include fiscal evaluation into the tool. Charters could be graded on the percentage of their salaries paid to top administrators and whether their major outside contracts are in line with what other charters are paying, among other criteria. These are two indicators that may have tipped regulators off to problems at Options.
Fortunately for our local charter school movement issues regarding testing and finances are exceedingly rare. Let's take advantage of the PMF to keep them that way.