Monday, May 2, 2016

Not In Our Back Yard!

Remarks as prepared for the Indiana Charter School Board hearing later today in South Bend, Indiana

A major drawback for citizens is that much of what goes on in the realm of charter schools is hidden from view.  But the little I have been able to learn about TeamCFA is not encouraging.

In 2006 TeamCFA opened the Challenge Foundation Academy in Indianapolis.  At its first audit the State Board of Accounts discovered significant problems:  School lunch reports were late and none of the applications were verified – this cost the Indianapolis school district real money.  Purchases lacked documentation and employees were paid improperly.

For unknown reasons TeamCFA withdrew its affiliation with this school in 2014.   

TeamCFA took over leadership of two Indianapolis schools in 2011 after then-Mayor Greg Ballard’s office declined to renew their charters.  Four years later Ball State University decided to close them.

Last year Team CFA opened the Indianapolis Academy of Excellence – which attracted only 85 students in grades K-4. Fifteen were old enough to take ISTEP. None of them passed it.

TeamCFA hews to the dubious “No Excuses” mantra in its schools.  The use of the word “academy” (which appears in all their schools’ names) implies a college prep school.  But as Joanne W. Golann, an education researcher at Princeton, wrote of this approach recently in a school she studied closely: 

“I found that in trying to prepare students for college, the school failed to teach students the skills and behaviors to help them succeed in college. In a tightly regulated environment, students learned to monitor themselves, hold back their opinions, and defer to authority. Colleges expect students to take charge of their learning and to advocate for themselves.   
In a new era of accountability, schools are creating *worker-learners* to (appear to) close the achievement gap. Schools are emphasizing obedience because they need to create order to raise test scores . . . “

Chalkbeat Indiana has found that “When it comes to charter schools in Indianapolis, test scores suggest the locally managed schools outdo those that are part of national networks.”   South Bend has several such charter schools already in operation.  These are unlike TeamCFA who has encountered problems with citizens in Phoenix and North Carolina who feel that corporate charter schools are undemocratic.

Research has consistently shown that on average charters perform no better than traditional public schools.   As regards the ICSB guiding principles, TeamCFA would seem to be lacking in excellence in leadership, innovative approaches, and particularly in transparent accountability.  And some of the Challenge Foundation leaders, particularly their founder John D Bryan, make no secret of their desire to privatize public education in the United States.

At a minimum it would be prudent to see if progress is made in their new Indianapolis school before they take on a new city.  I ask that you deny their application.

What do you think it symbolizes?