NCLB’s Public Charter School Program

History and Background

           This policy critique focuses on Title V:  Promoting Informed Parental Choice and Innovative Programs, Part B:  Public Charter Schools, Subpart 1:  Charter School Program and Subpart 2:  Credit Enhancement Initiatives to Assist Charter School Facility Acquisition, Construction, and Renovation of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (Public Law 89-10) as amended and reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) (Public Law 107-110).  Although school choice programs including charter school programs existed nationwide prior to NCLB, NCLB established the first federal program that mandated school choice primarily focusing on charter schools, eliminated previous voluntary federal school choice approaches, and included enforcement provisions.  NCLB was initiated by the federal government, primarily by former President George W. Bush, former U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, and U.S Representative John Boehner, even though several advocacy and political groups helped to influence the legislation.

NCLB amended Title V of ESEA to provide for a greater range of “public school choice opportunities by amending previous grant programs supportive of voluntary provisions of school choice” (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2008, p. 1).  Part B Subpart 1 and Subpart 2 focus on public charter schools.  Although the federal Department of Education (DOE) funds the program with grants, local school districts are required to pay the portion of Part B that the DOE does not fund causing NCLB to be an underfunded mandate.  The U.S. DOE “authorizes grants to support both:  (a) the planning, design and initial implementation of charter schools; and (b) the (…) dissemination of information and successful practices related to charter schools. (….) [NCLB] also authorizes a new per pupil [facilities aid program for] charter schools” (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2008, p. 1).  NCLB establishes standards against which schools are measured based on their students’ standardized test scores according to the belief that holding all schools accountable to its standards will improve student achievement and the performance of schools while students attending schools that fail to meet these standards will be given the choice of attending charter schools that provide a better education.

The purpose of Part B Subpart 1, the Charter School Program, is to address the problem of poor quality schools especially in large urban districts with large concentrations of students who are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch, are racial or ethnic minorities, have limited English proficiency (LEP), are English language learners (ELL), or qualify for special education by providing alternatives from which parents can choose the school for their children.  To accomplish this goal,

[NCLB] requires all government-run schools receiving federal funding to administer a state-wide standardized test (all students take the same test under the same conditions) annually to all students.  The students’ scores are used to determine whether the school has taught the students well.  Schools which receive Title I funding (…) must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in test scores (e.g. [sic] each year, its fifth graders must do better on standardized tests than the previous year’s fifth graders).  (Wikipedia, 2011a, p. 3)

The Charter School Program enables parents of disadvantaged students attending poor performing or failing schools especially in large urban districts to attend a charter school that provides a better education particularly if their district lacks traditional public schools (TPS’s) that are performing better and providing a higher quality of education.  NCLB enables students to transfer to a better performing public school including a charter school if their current school fails to meet state standards for at least two consecutive years while students are eligible for supplemental educational services if their school fails to meet state standards for at least three consecutive years.  The Charter School Program creates charter schools in districts with at least one poor performing or failing school with concentrations of target students to enable these students to improve their academic achievement, meet or exceed both their state’s and NCLB’s standards, and close or significantly narrow the achievement gap among majority and minority students.  Also, students may transfer to a safe school if they attend a persistently dangerous school or are a victim of a violent crime while in their school.  In addition, a poor performing or failing TPS may be converted to a charter school if it fails to achieve its “AYP targets for a sixth year in a row” (Wikipedia, 2011a, p. 3).

Part B Subpart 2 focuses on “credit enhancement initiatives” that authorize “grants for innovative credit enhancement initiatives to help charter schools with the cost of acquiring, constructing, and renovating facilities” (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2008, p. 1).

Charter schools face considerable financial burdens to obtain facilities for providing educational services.  Most charter schools rent space and older charter schools are beginning to buy and renovate buildings.  In both cases, district and state allocations generally do not cover facilities costs. Even when these costs are covered, charter schools rarely receive funding commensurate with the support provided for [TPS’s]. (Desktop reference, 2011, p. 53)

The purpose of this program is to fund charter school facilities on a level consistent with that provided TPS’s so as “to increase the number of charter schools” and the “capacity of existing charter schools to meet the demand of parents seeking alternative public schools” (Desktop reference, 2002, p. 53).  Although “the U.S. [DOE] awards grants [to help] defray the cost of acquiring, constructing, and renovating facilities through a competitive grant process to private, nonprofit organizations, public entities, or consortia,” local school districts must provide the necessary programs and pay the portion of these that DOE does not fund so that they are in compliance with NCLB which raises the possibility of public funds supporting for-profit entities or enabling the privatization of public schools (Desktop reference, 2011, p. 53).

NCLB requires every state education agency [SEA] to “demonstrate the contribution that the charter schools grant program will make in assisting educationally disadvantaged and other students in meeting the state’s academic standards” including those of NCLB (Desktop reference, 2002, p. 53).  Every state must evaluate its “per-pupil facilities aid programs” to determine the extent to which the programs promote educational equity (…) [and its charter schools] supported through the program are:

  • Held accountable to the public
    • Effective in improving public education
    • Open and accessible to all students” (Desktop reference, 2011, p. 52)

Also, every SEA must evaluate the performance of “students attending charter schools [according to] race, age, disability, gender, LEP, and previous enrollment in public school; (…) the professional qualifications of teachers within a charter school and the turnover of the teaching work force” (Desktop reference, 2011, p. 52).

[The Public Charter School Program] provides competitive grants for both states and individual charter schools.  Eligible [SEA’s] may apply to the U.S. DOE (…) for funds to be used for planning, program design, implementation, or dissemination but states must have enacted a charter school law to be eligible.  [SEA’s,] in turn, provide funding to charter schools while [SEA’s] may use up to 10 percent of their grant funds “to make subgrants to successful charters, to assist other schools in adapting the charter school’s program, or to disseminate information about the charter school.  [Each state is required to document how] the charter schools grant program (…) [assists] educationally disadvantaged and other students in meeting the state’s academic standards [including those of NCLB]. (Desktop reference, 2002, pp. 52-53)

NCLB holds states accountable for the performance of their charter schools through these requirements.  A charter school is defined as “a hybrid that mixes elements traditionally associated with private schools (choice, autonomy, and flexibility) with elements associated with public or government-run schools (universal access and public funding)” (Miron & Nelson, 2002, p. 194).

Ray Budde (…) defined the term charter school, (…) stated the ideas that led to a nationwide school reform movement,” (….) and “first suggested the term ‘charter’ for use in education (…) to describe a novel contracting arrangement designed to support the efforts of innovative teachers within the public school system. (Saulny, 2005, p.1)

In 1988, Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, advanced his concept of “opt-for schools” that “would be schools of choice for both teachers and the students” and then adopted Budde’s term of charter schools while by 1993 he had become an opponent of charter schools which he considered “as dangerous to public education, as the cutting edge of an effort to privatize the public schools” (Ravitch, 2010, pp. 123, 124).

The charter school operational framework, however, “evolved out of the magnet school idea, originally developed (…) as a way of increasing racial integration of urban schools” (Peterson & Campbell, 2001, p. 5).  Magnet schools provided a way in which “families from all racial groups [could] choose [to voluntarily integrate by choosing schools that offered] distinctive, improved education programs” (Peterson & Campbell, 2001, p. 5).  The federal government [promoted] magnet schools through the 1975 amendments to the Emergency School Assistance Act (ESAA)” (….) and “the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP)” (Sunderman, Kim, & Orfield, 2005, p. 41).

NCLB’s use of “charter schools represent the intersection of standards-based reform and choice-based reform” as demonstrated by President Clinton’s Goals 2000, the 1994 reauthorization of ESEA, which “required (…) that all states create performance-based accountability systems for schools by 2000” and NCLB’s provisions empowering “disadvantaged students (…) to use federal Title I funds to attend any high-performing public or private school or their choice—essentially transforming federal aid into a ‘voucher’” (Hess & Petrilli, 2006, pp. 13, 15, 17).  Although the “federal government first incorporated public school choice into Title I” with the passage of “the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA), which allowed local districts to use the Title I to fund intra-district choice programs and gave students in failing schools the option to transfer to better public schools,” (….) disproportionately few districts implemented [school choice] programs because such programs were voluntary under IASA (Sunderman, Kim, & Orfield, 2005, p. 39).

Charter schools were developed to provide school choice based on a competitive market approach to create a range of schools from which parents could choose the school that is best for their children based on the theory that it is the ability of parents to choose their children’s school that forces all public schools to compete for students and resources which results in the overall improvement of the quality of education for all students regardless of the school they attend.  The objectives of a charter school are to:

  • Provide increased local control of education
  • Provide more flexibility for schools and teachers to innovate
  • Provide educational options not available in TPS’s
  • Force TPS’s to compete for students
  • Provide parents and students with an alternative to their local TPS’s
  • Enable students to transfer from a school that is either failing, unsafe, or in corrective action to a charter school providing a higher quality of education and a safer environment

The Public Charter School Program “is designed to provide financial assistance for the planning, design, (…) implementation of charter schools, and [the evaluation of charter schools]” (Desktop reference, 2002, p. 52).

Although various school choice programs were used nationwide before the passage of NCLB, including “magnet schools, alternative schools, public charter schools, open-enrollment schools, and intra- and inter-district choice programs,” (….) none contained provisions “to ensure that students in troubled schools were given a chance to transfer out” (Hess & Petrilli, 2006, p. 45).  NCLB was the first federal program to mandate school choice with sanctions for districts that did not comply so that target students would have the opportunity to transfer from a poor performing school to one that provided a higher quality of education (Hess & Petrilli, 2006, p. 47).  NCLB amended ESEA by “[linking] public school choice to the goal of improving student achievement.  This approach was undergirded by the U.S DOE which stated that “[NCLB] specifically names public charter schools as a school-choice option for children in schools that are identified for improvement, corrective action or restructuring, because they offer a viable alternative to public schools in the traditional system” (U.S. Department of Education, 2003, p. 25).  NCLB’s school choice program that is primarily based on charter schools, therefore, is “a systemic solution to a structural problem” (Hess & Petrilli, 2006, p. 47).

Target Population                                   

The target population of NCLB Title V, Part B Subpart 1 and Subpart 2 consists of students who are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch, are racial or ethnic minorities, have LEP, are ELL, qualify for special education, experience an achievement gap versus majority students, or are otherwise disadvantaged, and are attending poor performing, unsafe, or failing TPS’s especially in large urban districts (Krieg, 2011, pp. 654-664).  NCLB’s Charter School Program is designed to create charter schools in districts with at least one poor performing or failing school with concentrations of target students to enable these students to improve their academic achievement, meet or exceed both their state’s and NCLB’s standards, and close or significantly narrow the achievement gap among majority and minority students.

Students are required to attend the TPS in their district if they are to attend a public rather than a religious of private school, therefore, “parents typically have limited options for public schooling once they choose where to live” (Ni & Arsen, 2010, p.96).  This led Arsen and Ni to conclude that charter schools will increase “academic, racial, and ethnic stratification while further concentrating many of the most disadvantaged students in schools depleted of the personnel and resources needed for improvement” (Arsen & Ni, 2011, p.17).  Charter schools are affected by the tax base of their host TPS districts because “resources devoted to education are closely linked with where people live and with the property wealth of their neighbors.  For this and other reasons, poor children tend to go to poor schools and more advantaged children to good schools” (Sawhill, 2006, p.3).

Target students tend to disproportionately attend schools with fewer, less up-to-date, and lower quality resources than comparable TPS’s attended by majority or affluent students because TPS’s nationwide are primarily funded by local property taxes.  Low property value or low wealth districts lack the property tax base with which to provide a quality of education commensurate with more affluent districts and target students disproportionately attend schools in low property wealth districts.  In addition, inequalities in the allocation of local and state school financial, intellectual, facility, and human resources within and among districts as well as states results in school funding disparities that adversely impact the TPS’s attended by target students.  The school funding inequities caused by the long standing problems of local property tax based school funding and state school funding inequalities adversely impact target students based on their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English language ability, special education status, and cultural background because urban “districts serve the vast majority of poor, minority, and immigrant children in the country” (Zimmer & Buddin, 2006, p. 1).  Bifulco and Ladd found similar inequities when they reported that “charter schools lead to greater segregation by race and that charter schools have a negative effect on [student performance], but the effect for blacks is substantially larger than the effect for whites” which led them to conclude that “charter schools are not consistently producing improved test scores for minorities above and beyond [TPS’s]” (as cited in Zimmerman & Buddin, 2006, pp. 309, 324).

The amount of local and state public funding that a typical charter school receives is often calculated by taking a specific percentage of its host district’s per pupil by grade level spending, such as 90% as it is in New Jersey, and multiplying it times the number of students enrolled in comparable grades within the charter school or a function of statewide average per pupil spending.  A charter school’s local and state public funding is largely dependent on the property wealth of its host district which affects how charter schools serve the communities where target students live and attend school as explained by Sugarman:

If charter funding is tied to district spending per pupil, then charter schools may be very differently funded based on who they can get to charter them.  This sort of inequality among charter schools surely must seem unfair to many charter school operators, and especially so as charter schools begin to lose their connection to families living in a particular district and begin to serve children from a metropolitan area.  Moreover, this arrangement gives those seeking charters special incentives to seek charters from some, but not other, districts.  The disincentive applies most strongly with respect to low wealth/low spending districts, and these are the very districts that charter school supports [sic] typically argue have the most to gain from charter schools.

On the other hand, if charter school funding is provided based on the state average per pupil spending level in public schools, then this discourages the conversion of existing public schools to charter schools in high spending districts, and it also makes it hard for new charter schools to compete in districts that have high spending.  State average spending also artificially encourages conversions to charter schools in low spending districts.  At the same time, regular public schools in those low spending districts would understandably feel unfairly disadvantaged as compared with charter schools with which they compete. (Sugarman, 2002, pp. 2-3)

Charter schools attended by target students are adversely impacted by the same district property wealth disparities and inequities that enable affluent TPS’s to afford a higher level of property taxes with which to fund their schools and provide a higher quality of education based on their higher property values.  Economically disadvantaged school districts are not able to raise the local property tax revenues necessary to fund a level of education for their students that is commensurate with either affluent TPS’s or the publicly funded charter schools in their district.

Darling-Hammond determined that the “analyses of data prepared for school equity cases in more than 20 states have found that (…)  schools serving large numbers of students of color have significantly fewer resources than schools serving more affluent, white students” (Darling-Hammond, 2011, p.20).  Ladson-Billings and Tate explain how a school’s curriculum is influenced by its level of financial, intellectual, facility, and human resources, “The quality and quantity of the curriculum varies with the ‘property values’ of the school” (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995, p. 54).  Ladson-Billings and Tate use curriculum to demonstrate the extent to which a school can leverage its resources is a function of the amount and kinds of property it owns.

The availability of “rich” (or enriched) intellectual property delimits what is now called “opportunity to learn” – the presumption that along with providing educational “standards” that detail what students should know and be able to do, they must have the material resources that support their learning.  Thus, intellectual property must be undergirded by “real” property, that is, science labs, computers and other state-of-the-art technologies, appropriately certified and prepared teachers.  Of course, Kozol demonstrated that schools that serve poor students of color are unlikely to have access to these resources and, consequently, students will have little or no opportunity to learn despite the attempt to mandate educational standards. (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995, pp. 54-55).

In terms of the disparities in school district funding that disproportionately restrict the level, quality, and availability of school resources of low income urban school districts especially those with large concentrations of target students, “[Critical Race Theory] argues that the inequality in school funding is a function of institutional and structural racism,” therefore, the property wealth supporting a school is perhaps “a powerful determinant of academic advantage” (Ladson-Billings, 2009, pp. 31, 32).  This is one of the major inequities confronting target students.

“We do not have an achievement gap; we have an education debt” according to Ladson-Billings who substitutes her “education debt” framework for the achievement gap concept “as a way of explaining and understanding the persistent inequality that exists (and has always existed) in our nation’s schools” (Ladson-Billings, 2006, pp. 4, 5).  Ladson-Billings (2006) uses her concept of an “education debt” to explain how focusing on the educational achievement gap is a “misleading exercise” because achievement gap discourse “moves us toward short-term solutions that are unlikely to address the long-term underlying problem” caused by racism, discrimination, segregation, and socioeconomic inequalities (Ladson-Billings, 2006, p. 4).  Exclusionary zoning practices aimed at the families of target students based on their race or ethnicity results in disproportionately large numbers of target students living in low property value, low income school districts.  The stigmatization of target students through the use of stereotypes, tracking, and a school system’s disrespect for their cultural capital and norms that tend to conflict with those of the TPS adversely impacts target students.  The educational equity gap, therefore, is a function of the unequal distribution of financial, intellectual, facility, and human resources among schools that disenfranchises low income urban school districts especially those with large concentrations of target students.

Critique of Policy

NCLB has a one size fits all approach that does not fit the majority of districts because it ignores unique local needs, challenges, and priorities, allows for a wide range of differences in how NCLB is interpreted, implemented and applied within the 50 states, and contains numerous inconsistencies and contradictions.  Although NCLB’s goal of requiring all students, including all target students, to reach the same NCLB imposed “standards in reading and mathematics by 2014” had overwhelming bi-partisan support when NCLB was approved by Congress in 2001, NCLB undermined its ability to achieve its ultimate goal of closing “the educational inequality between privileged and underprivileged districts within [each] state” because NCLB allowed for many different interpretations of what it meant by all students and states or even what it meant by 100% (Wikipedia, 2011b, p.7).  NCLB allows states to exclude five percent of all students within a district from testing, and states are allowed to use “alternative assessments” to test one percent of their student population, therefore, 100% “in NCLB means only 95% of students, because states must report assessment scores of 95% of students” (Wikipedia, 2011b, p. 7).

NCLB’s standardized test-based accountability system causes states to lower achievement goals and standards so as to increase test scores and avoid NCLB sanctions (Wikipedia, 2011b, pp. 4-5).  States are able to manipulate the difficulty of their tests because NCLB enables states to create their own standardized tests, gives states wide latitude in determining their standards relative to NCLB, and states are required to achieve only minimal levels rather than improve each student’s ability to his/her maximum in the tested subjects.  NCLB’s requirements for schools to continually improve their students’ test scores or face ever more stringent sanctions for poor performance combined with its lack of assessment requirements for non-tested subjects, provides incentives for “teachers to teach a narrow subset of skills that the teacher believes will increase test performance, rather than focus on the [full curriculum],” and “practice ‘teaching to the test’” (Wikipedia, 2011b, p. 5).

NCLB’s concentration on the subject areas of mathematics, language arts, and writing depreciates the value of non-tested subject matter and resources resulting in non-tested classes and resources being cut, eliminated, or experiencing reduced instruction time (Wikipedia, 2011b, p. 6).  Also, some states require students “who are not proficient in tested subject matter” to attend remedial classes rather than classes in non-tested subjects (Wikipedia, 2011b, p. 6).  Spring is typical of those critics who contend that NCLB’s standardized tests have an inherent cultural or anti-target student bias.

[NCLB] mandated that states use high-stakes standardized tests to measure educational outcomes.  By their very definition and construction, high-stakes standardized tests given in elementary, middle, and high schools represent a only a single culture.  Given to all students, test questions could not be based on knowledge known only to a minority culture.  Since [sic] teachers must teach to the test to ensure that their students are able to be promoted or graduated, teachers are forced to teach the culture embedded in the test items.  In fact, [NCLB] mandates that schools be ranked in quality according to the performance of their students on standardized tests. (….) Standardized tests create uniformity in the knowledge taught in public schools.  In other words, these tests standardize knowledge.  As a result, high-stakes tests created by state governments make a single culture the norm of schooling. (Spring, 2010, p. 135)

In addition, there are no requirements for gifted, talented, or other top-performing students.  Other tactics states use to artificially inflate test scores and avoid NCLB sanctions include the “creative reclassification” of dropouts and the selective suspension of lower performing students including many target students during NCLB test administration (Wikipedia, 2011b, p. 7).

NCLB has several methodological problems that adversely impact the accurate assessment of students as well as the benefits and penalties allocated to schools and districts including the determination of which schools are designated as needing improvement, restructuring, closing, or eligible to have their students transfer to a charter school.  The lack of gain scoring of individual students prevents the specific determination of individual student progress.  NCLB determines student progress by comparing the test scores of the current year’s students in third through eleventh grade with the previous year’s students in third through eleventh grade rather than perform assessments of the same student over time.  This unscientific comparison undermines the significance of NCLB’s tests whereas gain scoring would provide the necessary measure of individual student progress that is embodied in the theory undergirding NCLB (Maleyko & Gawlik, 2011, pp. 600-624).  The assessment of test scores differs by state because the thresholds for achieving proficiency and advanced proficiency differ by state and a test score assessed as failing in one state can be proficient or advanced proficient in another state.

Based on assessed test scores, once students are eligible to transfer to a charter school because their current school has been declared as in need of improvement or failing, the amount and distribution of NCLB, state, and local financial, intellectual, facility, and human resources to support a choice of schools providing a better education for target students vary widely among states and districts.  Making matters worse, NCLB is an underfunded federal education mandate that underfunded states and districts by approximately $85 billion through the 2008 fiscal year according to the AAUW which cited a National Education Association report entitled the Funding Gap:  No Child Left Behind (AAUW, 2009, p. 2).  Arsen and Ni’s examination of NCLB’s funding caused them to question its adequacy.

Among the many relevant features is whether state [and NCLB] funding is adequately adjusted for higher-cost students (special education or secondary versus elementary school).  If not, charter schools have an incentive to disproportionately enroll the cheapest students to educate.  Insofar as charter schools succeed in enrolling low-cost students and excluding high-cost students, they reduce their own average cost while increasing the average cost for [TPS’s] that continue to educate high-cost students.  Without additional revenues to match the higher costs, districts would be obliged to cut services. (Arsen & Ni, 2011, p.18)

Districts are required to fund the underfunded portion of the programs necessary to meet NCLB’s requirements which leaves less funding for their non-mandate protected programs and services such as regular education (Sogunro, Faryniarz, & Rigazio-DigiLio, 2009, pp. 54-58).  To offset the required funding of the unfunded portion, districts are faced with difficult choices that often include cutting regular education and increasing class sizes which usually result in lower test scores, a widening of the achievement gap, an increase in the number of failing schools, and NCLB sanctions.

NCLB’s standardized test-based accountability system provides common benchmarks for state standards and local implementation as well as a baseline for student and school achievement with a nationwide goal of having all students within every school achieve at least the minimum state standards.  This system provides quantifiable ways in which to determine if schools are ineffective, performing less well than comparable schools within the district or state, or failing while no such quantifiable measures were uniformly used nationwide prior to NCLB.  Standardized test scores also provide ways in which to quantify achievement gaps among majority and non-majority groups of students.

The level of funding that NCLB provides is not commensurate with the level necessary for school districts nationwide to meet or exceed its standards for all students regardless of where they attend school because it does not cover the full cost of implementing NCLB’s accountability system including “the [costs] of the testing system, (…) enforcing requirements, required changes in the school finance system to support the accountability system,” improvement plans for poor performing schools, restructuring failing schools, converting failing TPS’s into charter schools, and creating new charter schools (Duncombe, Lukemeyer, & Yinger, 2006, pp. 6-7).  Duncombe, Lukemeyer, and Yinger summarize the ramifications of the underfunding of NCLB:

We find that new federal funding is sufficient to support very low standards for student performance, but cannot come close to funding high standards without implausibly large increases in school-district efficiency.  Because of the limited federal funding and the severe penalties in NCLB when a school does not meet its state standards, states have a strong incentive to keep their standards low.  NCLB needs to be reformed so that it will encourage high standards. (Duncombe et al., 2006, Abstract)

NCLB is an underfunded mandate because it requires districts to fund the unfunded portion so that they are able to provide the NCLB level of mandated programs which often results in cuts to non-mandate protected programs such as regular education or increased class sizes as well as local property tax increases.

Districts with high concentrations of target students face greater challenges than districts with disproportionately low concentrations of target students (Beller & Hout, 2006; Loeb, Rouse, & Shorris, 2007; Rouse & Barrow, 2006).  Schools and “districts with high concentrations of disadvantaged students,” therefore, “cannot be expected to achieve the same level of student performance as other” schools and “districts unless they receive additional resources.  Under NCLB, schools with many disadvantaged students generally face harsher sanctions than other schools (Duncombe et al., 2006, p. 7).  Although additional resources are necessary because of the higher costs associated with educating disadvantaged students, state “‘intervention costs’ to provide additional resources to high-need districts so that they are able to meet NCLB standards [may be 95% greater than the corresponding costs of  a low-need district]” (Duncombe et al., 2006, pp. 7-8) while “NCLB places more requirements on schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students than other schools” (Duncombe et.al., 2006,  p. 22).

To reform NCLB, schools and districts must have the funds commensurate with the provision of the level of education necessary to meet NCLB’s standards because “NCLB requires states to implement a school accountability system based on the absolute test scores of their students” according to the school they attend (Duncombe et al., 2006, p. 3).  But states must have incentives to develop “value-added measures of student performance” (Duncombe et al., 2006, p. 3) as well as incentives to establish maximum standards (Wikipedia, 2011b, pp. 6-8).   Moreover, “NCLB needs to increase the extent to which its funds are directed toward disadvantaged students” while “[rewarding] states that provide the additional funds that schools with disadvantaged students require” (Duncombe et.al., 2006, p. 22).

The answers to the question as to whether NCLB is doing what it intended is found in the evaluation of the main purpose of the NCLB and Title V Part B as summarized by Duncombe, “The main purpose of NCLB is ‘to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State [sic] academic achievement standards and state academic assessment” and provide an alternative way in which students who are attending a poor performing or failing school, and are disadvantaged students, can attend a public school that provides a quality education (Duncombe et.al., 2006, p. 21).  NCLB requires each SEA to demonstrate how the charter schools grant program is assisting all eligible students, especially target students, who are attending a poor performing or failing school, in meeting each state’s academic standards  (Desktop reference, 2011, p. 53).

Research on charter school performance in terms of how well charter schools have met or exceeded their NCLB goals has found little or no evidence of benefits for target students in terms of increased academic achievement, meeting or exceeding their state’s NCLB standards, or closing or significantly narrowing the achievement gap with majority group students (Eckes,  2010, pp. 67-70).  School choice was found to “[produce] identifiable harm [to target students in the form of increased of segregation by race and income]” (Eckes, 2010, p. 67).  In addition, “Although charter schools serve a high proportion of African American students relative to [TPS’s], they do so in a way that increases racial and income stratification” (Eckes, 2010, p. 67).  Research performed that equalizes the mix of students attending charter schools and (TPS’s) according to race, ethnicity, income, and special education has found that charter schools produce no significant improvement in student achievement (Baker, 2011b; 2011c).

NCLB, the most recent reauthorization of ESEA which has been reauthorized approximately every five years since 1965, is undergoing reauthorization (U.S. Congress, 2008), and as such is in Fowler’s evaluation stage of the policy process.  Fowler defines evaluating a policy as “determining to what extent a policy is reaching its goals” and “if the [policy works] as [it is] intended” (Fowler, 2009, pp. 18, 311).  President Obama described his proposal for reauthorizing NCLB, entitled A Blueprint for Reform:  The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as “[building] on the significant reforms already made in response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” and as “not only a plan to renovate a flawed law, but also an outline for a re-envisioned federal role in education” (U.S. Department of Education, 2010, pp. 2, 3).  Providing “competitive grants (…) to start or expand high-performing public charter schools” (….) that “serve all students (…) including English Learners [sic] and students with disabilities” is the intervention to improve student achievement especially in low-performing or failing schools that is at the core of President Obama’s plan (U.S. Department of Education, 2010, p. 37).  School choice in the form of charter schools is the turnaround model President Obama reported that will enable “high-poverty, low-performing schools [to achieve high] academic standards” (Ravitch & Mathis, 2010, p. 12).  Also, President Obama’s plan focuses more on improving student achievement than on imposing penalties for failing to comply with NCLB requirements and on narrowing the achievement gap.

On September 13, 2011 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, H.R. 2218, that if approved by the Senate and signed into law would revise Title V Part B Subpart 1 and Subpart 2 of NCLB.  Although H.R. 2218 would “expand the scope of the Charter School Program to include [more funding] for new charter schools; replicable, high quality charter school models; and the expansion of high-quality charter schools” (Library of Congress, 2011, p. 1), the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) criticized the bill because AASA believes that H.R. 2218 would provide disproportionate funding to those “states that received Race to the Top funds” rather than fund all states, districts, and schools equally (AASA, 2011, p. 1).  AASA objected to the disproportionate funding for charter school facilities “Given that the average age of a school building [exceeds 50 years while providing] federal support to fund construction/renovation costs for charter schools [exceeding that] provided to TPS’s” (AASA, 2011, p. 1).  Although H.R. 2218 “emphasizes the need for charter schools to serve all students, including children with disabilities and [ELL]”, AASA demands “clarification as to how it will be ‘ensured’ that charter schools meet the (Skinner, 2011, pp. 1-2) educational needs of all students, including [ELL] and those with disabilities” (AASA, 2011, p. 1).

AASA argues that the same waivers from “federal regulations believed to be obstacles to successful operation of charter schools (….) should be extended to [TPS’s] (AASA, June 22, 2011, p.1) while H.R. 2218 would require any state receiving Title V funds for charter schools “[to remove all] limitations on the number or percentage of charter schools that may exist or the number or percentage of students that may attend charter schools” (Library Of Congress, 2011, p. 1).  Although the U.S. Senate Education Committee approved a revision of NCLB which would eliminate the “usage of [AYP]” and “federally directed interventions for all but the lowest-performing 5 [sic] percent of schools and schools with persistent achievement gaps between low-income students, minority students, and their more advantaged peers” (Klein, 2011,  p. 21), Parents Across America (PAA) “a grassroots organization representing public school parents [nationwide], opposes [H.R. 2218]” because PAA argues that “[H.R. 2218 will] rapidly increase the quantity and not the quality of charters schools, without the necessary safeguards, and to weaken the public school system” (Parents Across America, 2011, p. 1).

Charter schools must be required to serve the same proportions of target students as do their TPS counterparts without cream-skimming or cropping, and abide by the same statutes, regulations, and civil rights requirements as do TPS’s.  Cream-skimming is the practice of improving “test scores by counseling disruptive students to transfer to another school or flunking low-performing students. (….)  Not only do [charter schools] look better, (…) but [TPS’s] look worse” (Ravitch, 2010a, p. 156).  This led Ravitch to conclude that those “students who are hardest to educate are left to [TPS’s]” (Ravitch, 2010b, p. 2).  Cropping is the practice of “enrolling lower percentages of students with [academic challenges].  [Thus, extremely market-oriented charter schools (…) enroll lower percentages of LEP and [special education] students than [TPS’s]” (Garcia, 2010, p. 45).  In addition, charter schools tend to “[stratify] disadvantaged students by educating the ‘deserving poor’ or the most advantaged of the disadvantaged” (Garcia, 2010, p. 45).  Baker’s findings echo Garcia’s research.

[Charter schools] seem, on average to be taking in the less poor among the poor—at least the “model charters” do.  That’s simply not scalable reform.  Claims by [New Jersey charter school advocates] that these schools are serving the same, high poverty, needy student populations as other schools in their neighborhood are simply wrong—and not supported by any legitimate, fine grained analysis. (Baker, 2010a, p. 4)

NCLB’s Public Charter School Program must be amended so that charter school public funding, budgets, and governing officers are approved by the public through district wide votes rather than remain solely the discretion of charter schools that benefit from public funding.

Charter schools can accomplish the NCLB’s Public Charter School Program’s goals if charter schools embody “Al [Shanker’s] vision for a new and different type of public school.  Freed from stultifying state and district bureaucracy and micromanagement, this public school would be an educational laboratory” (Leavy, 2009, p. 1).  To meet NCLB’s maximum goals, the Public Charter School Program must require charter schools to abide by these six principles:

  1. Quality:  Charter schools must provide a high quality education and meet the same educational standards, serving the same students, as [TPS’s].
  2. Innovation:  Charter schools should be places of educational experimentation, developing and testing out new approaches to teaching and learning which can then be disseminated among all public schools.
  3. Real Choice:  Charter schools should supplement, not supplant, existing public schools.  They should provide students and their families with more choices among quality public schools, including a choice to attend a traditional neighborhood school.  It is important here to maintain a balance between neighborhood schools and charter schools.
  4. Equity:  Charter schools and other public schools must be treated equitably, provided with equivalent resources and supports.  No students should be educationally shortchanged because the school he or she attends is not in political favor.
  5. Voice:  Charter schools must welcome the participation of parents and teachers in important educational decisions, and the right of charter school staff to organize and bargain collectively must be recognized.
  6. Accountability:  Charter schools must be accountable, in public and transparent ways, for student performance, admissions and enrollment policies and how funds are used, as rigorously as [TPS’s] are held accountable. (Leavy, 2009, p. 2).

All schools must have the funds necessary to provide a top quality education for all students regardless of the school they attend.  But to improve student achievement for all students nationwide there are “better uses for public resources than charter schools” including smaller “class size,” schools, and districts, equitable distribution of quality human, intellectual, facility, and financial resources, and “increased oversight of [all public schools]” (Miron, 2010, p. 91).

Charter schools are failing to achieve their NCLB goals.  This highlights the need to reform NCLB’s charter school policy because it is leveling down the quality of education in TPS’s and when a school or district’s educational quality deteriorates or is expected to decline, those taxpayers who are the most mobile or advantaged, usually vote with their feet, and move to another district while those who are the least mobile or disadvantaged remain (Fischel, 2002).  NCLB’s charter school policy does not meet or exceed its ultimate goal of the provision of a top quality education for all students regardless of where they live or attend school through the provision of charter schools in which all of the students who attend a failing or poor performing school within the district have the opportunity to attend a charter school.  If the question is how to provide a quality education nationwide for all students regardless of where they live or attend school, but especially target students who are attending a failing or poor performing public school, then the answer is not found within NCLB’s public charter school policy.

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