Thursday, June 02, 2011

Has Metro's charter school review committee violated open meeting laws in their selection process?

A few months ago I worried about the lack of transparency in Metro's charter school selection process. Last weekend I received an email from an Enclave reader with concerns that the Metro charter school review committee may have violated open meetings laws in April and May by holding multiple meetings without publicizing the time and place beforehand. The consequences of these secret deliberations were only communicated on May 25 with news coverage of the school board meeting where the committee's recommendations were made.

Knowledge Academy, a LEAD Academy clone for South Nashville, and KIPP Academy were all given the green light without public consideration of how the committee reached its conclusions on sending them public resources. This administration has a track record of meetings that evade the public radar, and it is disconcerting that more Nashvillians are not concerned about decisions made behind closed doors.

Speaking of a lack of openness and the KIPP charter more particularly, an education blogger checked out the recent editorial wars over charters in the Tennessean, and he points out that the KIPP CEO was not entirely transparent about the characteristics of the "neediest" students it serves in only mentioning African Americans:

Dowell says nothing about charter/KIPP enrollment of English language learners (ELLs) or special needs students, who represent the two categories of “neediest” to which Gifford refers. Whether Tennessee, Tucson, or Toledo, charters, on average, enroll significantly fewer students in both of these categories. A study by researchers at Western Michigan University published in March of this year found that

During the 2007-08 school year, the new study found that 11.5 percent of KIPP students were ELLs, compared with 19.2 percent of students in their local school districts. The numbers for special education students showed an even wider gap for that school year; 5.9 percent of KIPP students had disabilities, compared with 12.1 percent of students in the local school districts (Ed Week, 04/11/11).

KIPP's Randy Dowell at the right hand of the Dean
Other earlier studies demonstrate the same pheno- menon, which has become a scandal within the charter industry. There is no way that Dowell could be ignorant of these facts, and one must wonder if he thinks the Tennesseans are just too stupid to know otherwise.

The idea of marketing charter schools seems to require tight control over the message by highly motivated individuals who may or may not be committed to persevere the daily grind of public education of children. The value of total transparency seems to take a backseat to finding an attractive message and riding it down while ignoring, sometimes even hiding, any counter examples or contradictory information. This lack of openness is further evidence weighing against the "public" credentials of charter schools.

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