A charter school in the Bronx has been placed on probation for breaking New York state laws that require charter admissions to be random. The Academic Leadership Charter School serves students from Pre-K through second grade and has been charged with selectively choosing applicants who are more likely to out-perform their peers.
"Weeding Out" Students
Anna Phillips of The New York Times, reports that students were quietly admitted to the school on the basis of their previous report cards and disciplinary history and not through a lottery process required in charter schools receiving public funding. Such lotteries are typically overseen by an independent third party and are blind to student demographics and previous academic performance. An anonymous teacher at the school has even accused administrators of testing students prior to entry, a practice clearly prohibited by law.
These allegations get right to the heart of the charter schools debate. The school in question appears to have violated a number of laws designed to keep access to publicly-funded charters open and fair. Yet, this is only one case in which unethical activity has occurred. How many other schools are employing similar practices to boost their test scores and disciplinary records? How many other students are being brought into charter schools, not because the school wants to do good for them, but because their performance will do good for the school?
Clearly No Cure-All
Such questions are unanswerable, and perhaps that's the most troubling aspect of the situation in the Bronx. We can't know how many other publicly-funded charter schools are engaged in exactly the same practices, because our states and local education agencies have thus far been ineffective in ensuring compliance with the law. We have been too quick to hand resources and legitimacy over to charter schools in general, hailing them as a panacea for public education.
We can't wait for intrepid reporters to break such stories. Instead, the education reform community must do the mature work of recognizing that not all charters are created equal. It must also ensure that all charters –independent though they may be – must have their admissions processes and practices rigorously monitored by higher legal authorities.