Bad charters to face revocation

State Board would decide after public hearing

The State Board of Education moved closer Tuesday to adopting regulations giving it authority to put the lowest performing charter schools out of business.

Under the latest (and likely the final) proposal, the Board would consider revoking the charter of a school whose API scores were in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide two straight years and that had failed to raise its API score at least 50 points over the previous three years. (A charter school would have to have been operating at least five years.)

Revocation wouldn’t be automatic; the charter school could make a case to the Board to justify staying open. The Board would likely exclude dropout-prevention charters serving at-risk teens, for example. But the burden would be on the school to change the Board’s mind.

Most charter schools are overseen by local school boards. The proposed regulations are an acknowledgment that some districts have failed to confront poorly performing schools when renewing their charters.

The State Board, whose members are appointed by the governor, is decidedly pro-charter. Several members agreed that, by holding charters more accountable, the revocation regulations would protect children and strengthen the charter school movement in the long run.

“This is a good start, but just a start,” said Board member Ben Austin. “Reformers need to hold charters to higher standards because they have freedom from the ed code and often aren’t restricted by collective bargaining agreements.”

But Eric Premack, director of the Charter Schools Development Center in Sacramento, disagreed with the notion that accountability has been  largely ignored. Without headlines, 200 California charter schools have been revoked or not renewed – “a high kill rate,” he said.

Earlier versions of the proposed regs were more complex. The latest received the endorsement of the California Charter Schools Association and the California School Boards Association, which are usually at odds on charter regulations.

Their representatives did express reservations about a blanket 50-point API growth requirement. Even the lowest decile elementary schools now have API scores of around 700; a 50-point gain for them would be much harder to achieve than a high school with a 550 API score.

But Board President Ted Mitchell assured them that the failure to increase by 50 points in three years simply would put the charters in a pool of schools for possible revocation; a final determination would be made after a public hearing.

The Board could pass the regulations at its next meeting in November.


  1. Sorry to be a “broken record” again, but I just have to point out that editorial boards and others have been known to attack school districts when they DO move to revoke the charters of low-performing schools.
    Here in San Francisco, our school board began moving to revoke the charter of Edison Charter Academy back in 2001, and was attacked by the national press (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today) as well as the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle. Among the issues with Edison Charter Academy were: low performance (its API was in the bottom quintile among SFUSD schools in 2000 and dead last among SFUSD schools in 2001); dumping of problem and high-need students on other schools; refusal to admit students with disabilities the school administrators deemed too severe for them to wish to cope with; and far higher costs than expected and than other schools.
    (It didn’t really help that when Edison Schools Inc. won a contract with a school district, its standard procedure was to immediately begin sending out press releases touting its superiority to its client district — for those who think the private sector has the answers, surely one would recognize that publicly disparaging your clients would be viewed as a poor practice in the private sector. HOWEVER, if the schools had been successful, I think districts would have ignored that breach of smart business practice.
    In 2003, SFUSD had another problem charter school, Urban Pioneer (UP) High School. Its issues were:
    – the deaths of two students who fell into a ravine on an unsupervised school wilderness outing.
    – financial chaos, including teachers’ paychecks bouncing.
    – rock-bottom test scores.
    – open academic fraud — UP was “graduating” students with far fewer than the required credits and without other requirements.
    The press didn’t really get involved this time, though UP hired a damage-control PR specialist, David Hyams of Solem and Associates, who had recently left a long career as a Chronicle editor, and his quotes likening the SFUSD investigation into UP to the “Taliban” and a “witch hunt” did appear prominently in the Chronicle coverage.
    However, the precursor to the California Charter Schools Assn. (then called CANEC) did advocate fiercely for keeping UP open, with charter elder Peter Thorp speaking on UP’s behalf.
    These high-profile campaigns to attack school boards for attempting to oversee charter schools definitely have a chilling effect.
    So — my question is — have the nation’s editorial writers and the charter school lobby changed their views on school districts’ right and responsibility to oversee problem charters?
    If so, it would be great if they would step up and say so prominently, perhaps even apologizing for their past behavior attempting to intimidate school boards that are attempting to exercise oversight, and committing not to do it again. Otherwise, I’ll have to repeat my suggestion that newspaper editorial boards become the oversight bodies for charter schools, since they too often seem to believe that they should have the final say.

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  2. About John’s post, and not the comments:
    “Good.” We should aim to shut down ineffective schools as fast as possible, charter, public, or private. Too many lives and educations on the line.

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  3. “Revocation wouldn’t be automatic…” says John. That, I believe, is what they call an understatement.

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  4. FWIW, with respect to CarolineSF’s assertions regarding Edison Charter School, the school has substantially exceeded its API growth targets for the past 3 years.  With an API of 782, it is just shy of the state’s 800-point target.   It also ranks a “10″ on the so-called similar schools index.  I gather it’s also functioning on its own now, independent of Edison, Inc.
    Many charter advocates, including myself, have provided extensive support to school district staff and board members to both intervene constructively in low-performing charters and, when necessary, to pull the plug and revoke or non-renew the charter.  We’ve also helped many charter schools to shut down in advance of the district intervening.   We typically do this work without fanfare because it tends to lead to smoother closures and better support for students and staff.   We’ve never tried to intimidate district board members and seriously doubt that San Francisco’s thick-skinned board members would feel any heat even if we did try to do so.
    The charter school sector in California is far from perfect.  California made a serious mistake by entrusting the important job of charter oversight to oft-overwhelmed and conflicted school districts.   Even with these problems, the data show that districts have revoked or non-renewed hundreds of charter schools in California and many more charters have voluntarily closed when they realize they’re not up-to-snuff.   Haven’t seen much of this kind of real accountability in the mainline system.

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  5. Edison Charter Academy, which is now chartered by the state Board of Ed and is just a rent-paying tenant in an SFUSD property, has indeed done quite well in recent years. And yes, it has also severed itself from the flailing remains of once-hailed Edison Schools Inc. and is independently run.
    So that’s good news. But it’s irrelevant to my point, which is that back when Edison Charter Academy was a very low-performing school and was otherwise a problem charter stressing SFUSD’s scarce resources, editorial boards and other forces locally and around the country beat our school district bloody over its attempt to exercise oversight over Edison Charter Academy. (It’s quite relevant that other school districts around the nation had the exact same problems with Edison Schools Inc., which is WHY the company is now reduced to flailing remains. None of the onetime cheerleaders have acknowledged their erroneous judgment, of course — they just pretend they never heard of Edison Schools Inc.)
    John, unless you were sitting in those editorial meeting at 750 Ridder Park Drive back in 2001 arguing futilely against attacking the SFUSD BOE over Edison and being overruled, how can you on one hand criticize a school board from trying to exercise oversight over a charter school and on the other criticize school boards for not exercising sufficient oversight over charter schools? That’s not consistent, to put it as politely as I can.
    And Eric Premack, were you involved in the CANEC attempt to pressure SFUSD not to close Urban Pioneer over the two dead students, financial chaos, rock-bottom test scores and academic fraud, or was that before your time? Given that they hired the high-priced Solem & Associates to do damage control despite being unable to pay their teachers, I would assume that CANEC funded that as well.
    Could both of you please clarify?
    And Eric Premack,  the weird slap at SFUSD’s BOE as “thick-skinned” is out of line. (Disclosure that I have friends on the BOE — I had lunch with two of them today — but I also find myself frequently disagreeing with certain other members as well.) CANEC certainly did try to intimidate our school board. I was in the room at when Gary Larson organized a busload of Edison “happy parents” in CANEC-purchased matching T-shirts, chanting and trying to shut down a BOE meeting. (I’m not sure how they managed such enthusiasm given that their school was the lowest-performing in the district — I would guess remuneration was involved, but who knows.) I’m not a BOE member, but I found it intimidating.
    How dare you deny that to my (virtual) face?
    Serving on a board of education is not easy, and in SFUSD, our BOE commissioners (both those I like and support and those I disagree with) do it for a whopping $500 a month. Obviously a high-pressure campaign in the media or from a powerful and well-funded lobbying organization has an intimidating and chilling effect on a commissioner’s effort to do the job responsibly.

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