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Charter schools and integrity

The community members who serve on the boards of three charter schools slated for closing surely are well-intended, but they would best serve students and parents by stepping back to consider advice from a supportive source, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Instead of flaming the hopes of students and parents who want to remain at Timothy L. Johnson Academy or the two Fort Wayne Imagine schools, the board members should accept that the managers they hired to run the schools haven't fulfilled their promises.

NACSA certainly is not a charter school critic, but it wisely supports effective charter schools – schools that offer a positive alternative to the existing public schools. The organization also has raised worthwhile questions about the for-profit education management organizations hired by local charter sponsors to run the schools – Imagine Inc. and Leona Group, in the case of the targeted Fort Wayne schools.

With today's release of a new study by the charter-friendly Center for Research on Education Outcomes, NACSA President Greg Richmond offered this statement:

"After careful consideration of school performance, Ball State University recently took the important step of denying renewal to seven persistently low-performing charter schools. Some of those schools will seek new charters from another authorizer in the state. Authorizers in Indiana reviewing such applications should consider the finding in the CREDO study released today: past school performance is a strong indicator of future performance.

"The study supports what many educators already know about school quality: there is little reason to believe that any of these schools will improve, no matter who authorizes them. Perpetuating failure will not give the children of Indiana the education they deserve. Authorizers should deny charters to those operators with consistently bad results. Instead, they should approve only strong proposals for new charter schools, replicate those existing charter schools that are doing well, and have the integrity to close the hundreds of charter schools in this country that are failing their children."

The board members for each of the schools tapped by Ball State should look closely at the advice offered. If they truly want to serve students, they would realize the assurances of improvement come from the very contractors who have failed to deliver. They can expect that the appeals hearing at Ball State will include hurtful claims that achievement lags because of the make-up of the student body. In fact, those claims already have started.

It's easy for education service providers to wrap their messages in concern for kids, but well-meaning school board members should set aside the emotion and do the right thing.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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