EduShyster has a fascinating and important interview with Preston Green, the John and Carla Klein Professor of Urban Education at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, who explains why charter schools are the new subprime mortgages. Green says he used to be a strong charter supporter, but he has become wary because of the excesses of deregulation. He predicts that just as the subprime mortgage bubble burst, the same is likely to happen to the charter school bubble. Just like subprime mortgages, charters are expanding rapidly without oversight. Promoters of charters, often with the best of intentions, seek multiple authorizers so that oversight is slack. Parents in urban communities line up on the hope that they will get better education, but they often (usually?) don’t.

 

Green says:

 

Promoters of charter school expansion are calling for an increase in independent authorizers, such as nonprofits and universities. Supporters of charter school expansion believe that multiple authorizers will issue more charters, in part, because they are less hostile to charter schools than school districts. However, our research suggests another reason that multiple authorizers result in more charter schools: multiple authorizers are like mortgage originators with no skin in the game. In other words, these authorizers don’t assume the risk of charter school failure. That means that if something happens with the charter school, the authorizers don’t have to clean up the mess. Multiple authorizers may also weaken screening by giving charter schools the chance to find authorizers who *won’t ask questions.* In fact, CREDO has found that states with multiple authorizers experienced significantly lower academic growth. CREDO suggested that this finding might be due to the possibility that multiple authorizers gave charter schools the chance to shop around to find authorizers who wouldn’t provide rigorous oversight….

 

 

Where I see this playing out is that if you have too many charters or options that aren’t public having a negative impact on the education system as a whole, you may start seeing challenges in these communities saying that the state is failing to provide children with a system of public education, or that the options provided aren’t of sufficient quality to satisfy the state’s obligation to provide a public education. The assumption is that if kids fail to get an education in a charter school they can return to the traditional system. But what happens if you don’t have that option? You may soon see that develop in all of these urban settings. The really scary scenario that I could see happening is that you end up with all of these options that aren’t traditional public schools with insufficient oversight by the authorizers and no real pressure to get these schools to perform well….

 

If we’re going to have multiple authorizers, we have to impose standards to ensure that they do a good job, because without those standards there is really no incentive for them to ensure that these schools are operating in an acceptable manner. I should also mention putting sanctions in place to prevent the really squirrely practice of *authorizer hopping,* where schools are closed by one authorizer and then find another authorizer, which has happened quite a bit in places where oversight has been really weak, like Ohio. Further, authorizers should guard against predatory chartering practices, including fining students for discipline violations.