Who's cheating who?
State education officials haven't finished their investigation into alleged cheating on standardized tests in some public school districts in the state. But they have found their own side door to increase test results for charter schools.
This page also has been an advocate of charter schools and other alternative schools, especially in more urban areas, that could free at least some students from failing public schools and provide meaningful competition for conventional public schools, thus forcing better performance.
Charter schools, so far, have had mixed results.
But last summer, without so much as a public notice, the state Department of Education filed a request with the U.S. Department of Education to adopt a protocol for charter schools that would give them a far better chance of meeting the federal standard for "adequate yearly progress."
According to the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, which had lobbied for the change in methodology, the change would increase charter schools' success rate by as much as 30 percent.
The change is major. Instead of applying the standards for individual schools, the state would apply the broader, less stringent standard for entire school districts to individual charter schools. The change would enable charters with one failing grade segment, say grades 3 through 5, to achieve adequate yearly progress if other grade segments passed.
In September, the state Department of Education announced that it had applied the methodology and, indeed, a higher percentage of charter schools had achieved adequate yearly progress than in the proceeding year.
Under the "no child left behind" law, states may not change their assessment methods without federal approval. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education said that the state Education Department did not have a authority to use the revised method, which is under review in Washington.
The state should use the same method to assess individual public charter schools that it uses to assess individual conventional public schools. The objective isn't simply to affirm a policy favored by the administration and legislators, it's to determine whether charters actually do any better than conventional public schools.
Beyond that, the administration should not undertake such a major change without public notice.