Ball State University is on the right track in expanding the scope of its charter school reviews. In weighing renewal of its three Fort Wayne schools this year, the university shouldn’t hesitate to hold the schools to the promise on which the state’s charter law was built: Outperform traditional public schools or close.
Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, the Indiana charter movement’s biggest champion, was defeated in spite of a GOP tide at the Statehouse. The vote signals strong distrust of the smorgasbord of school choice Bennett pushed and growing irritation over taxpayer funding diverted from traditional schools to start-ups of inferior quality.
As Sarah Janssen’s Sunday story noted, the three Ball State-sponsored charter schools in Fort Wayne have abysmal academic records. Each is seeking a five-year renewal of its charter from the university, which continues to be the state’s only public university authorizing charter schools. Timothy L. Johnson Academy, which was among the first charters in 2002, previously received two-, three- and one-year extensions. Ball State placed Imagine MASTer Academy on probation in 2010 for problems related to its governance. It also revoked a charter for a proposed third Imagine school here because plans were altered from the original proposal.
To its credit, Ball State’s Office of Charter Schools has been exercising more rigorous oversight of the schools in recent years. Its closer scrutiny of charter applications probably contributed to Bennett’s push to bypass the university and seek charter-granting authority for private colleges – handing off control of K-12 education dollars to institutions with no accountability to voters – and to a new Indiana Charter School Board.
The latter quickly demonstrated its contempt for public input by granting a charter to the Fort Wayne Urban League’s Thurgood Marshall Academy. A hearing on the charter application overwhelmingly drew opponents.
The city’s newest charter school missed all of its announced enrollment targets and already has lost its first principal. The Fort Wayne Community Schools board on Monday approved the appointment of Nicole Chisley as an assistant principal at Wayne High School, just five months after the Urban League hailed her as the perfect fit for its new charter school.
People should reach their own conclusions concerning what Ms. Chisley’s departure says about Thurgood Marshall’s ability to retain quality teachers and administrators, said FWCS board President Mark GiaQuinta. I can say that her departure was a choice she made without any encouragement from FWCS. I believe it is reasonable to conclude that FWCS is more professionally appealing than the charter environment Ms. Chisley left.
The state charter board, packed with Bennett supporters, isn’t likely to heed calls for stronger oversight. Ball State, however, has the reputation of its Teachers College to maintain. Sound rejection of a candidate closely aligned with charter schools gives the university room to demonstrate its commitment to professionalism and academic excellence.
In the end, the test for charter renewal must be what’s best for students. Fort Wayne’s experience suggests that charter school students will be struggling by ninth grade, when they likely enter an East Allen or FWCS high school.
Bennett liked to say that kids can’t wait for better schools. Ball State shouldn’t wait another five to 10 years for its Fort Wayne charters to match the performance of its traditional public schools.