No 'cooking the books' for charter schools
Much as the state Department of Education caught several Pennsylvania school districts cheating on student achievement tests, the U.S. Department of Education has caught the state education agency fudging on behalf of charter schools.
Recently the federal department properly rejected the state DOE's request to assess charter schools differently than conventional public schools, which is good news for taxpayers and parents.
Charter schools are public schools, funded by local and state taxpayers. They are viewed by the Corbett administration and many of its allied lawmakers as a crucial alternative to conventional public schools. State policy, in terms of establishing and funding charter schools, has been shaped during this administration to promote rapid expansion of charter schools.
Since taxpayers fund charter schools, and parents select them for their children believing that charters offer better education than conventional public schools, it is crucial that assessments of each type of school produce fair comparisons.
The administration, however, has applied a more lenient evaluation method to charter schools than to individual public schools.
The federal No Child Left Behind Law mandates evaluation of "adequate yearly progress" for school districts and individual schools. Individual schools must reach certain goals for every tested grade level to achieve AYP, but districts can achieve AYP by reaching goals in just one of three grade groupings - 3-5, 4-6 or 9-12.
Pennsylvania this year, for the first time, applied the much more lenient standard for school districts to individual charter schools. Under the lenient standard, 59 percent of charters achieved AYP. If the state had applied the tougher standard for individual schools - the standard that also is most important to parents with children in those schools - only 37 percent of the charters would have met the standard. Of the state's conventional public schools, 50 percent achieved AYP.
Charter expansion might possibly be a key way to improve education in Pennsylvania, as its advocates claim. If that is the case, there should be no need to measure their performance against watered-down standards.