Oversight, Charter Schools, and a Thorough and Efficient System of Public Education
45 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2018 Last revised: 22 May 2020
Date Written: September 26, 2018
What does accountability mean in the context of public education? Many charter school advocates often argue that charters are superior to traditional public schools because they are more accountable. Yet those same advocates do not identify how they are accountable or to whom. This article interrogates the meaning of “accountability” in the conversation about charter schools, particularly in the context of Philadelphia, where over one third of the public school population is enrolled in charters and charter funding comprises over 30 percent of the Philadelphia School District budget.
I argue that accountability should not be limited solely to market accountability. Charters’ effectiveness cannot be measured only by the number of parents will to opt for their services. Oversight of charters is essential if states like Pennsylvania are to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education to their residents, as guaranteed explicitly by their state constitutions. To the extent those in state governments decide to include charters in those public education systems, they owe their citizens thoughtful review of charter costs and operations. This article takes the charter application process in Philadelphia as a case study, based on an extensive review of each application – research that has yet to be conducted until now. The article reveals that careful oversight and evaluation of these applications must be done in order to prevent flawed applicants from opening flawed schools, that fail to educate their students and waste public funds.
There have been inroads toward oversight reform. The Philadelphia School District’s Charter Schools Office (CSO) has developed best practices for oversight which have increased the information available to the public about the education, finances, governance, and regulatory compliance of the charters it oversees. It carefully and extensively evaluates applications for new charters and requests for renewal. But this oversight has been met with hostility from supporters of privatization and charters who assert that market discipline is the only oversight needed; if parents want a school, that desire alone justifies public funds going to the school. True accountability demands careful oversight of the public money entrusted to charter school operators. The efforts of authorizers, like the CSO, should be supported through dedicated funding to make sure oversight happens to protect public funds.
Keywords: charter schools, privatization, education reform, oversight, accountability, school choice
JEL Classification: K19, K23, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation