D.C. Charter Schools: Strengthening Monitoring and Process When Schools Close Could Improve Accountability and Ease Student Transitions

Liam Julian

United States Government Accountability Office
November 2005

The District of Columbia has a larger percentage of its students - over 20 percent - in charter schools than any state (although in urban districts, it trails Dayton for highest percentage of charter students). Their schools are approved and overseen by two authorizers - the D.C. Board of Education (BOE), which also runs the city's traditional public schools, and the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB). How well are these two authorizers doing their jobs, and in what areas can they improve? That's what this report, required by the 2005 D.C. Appropriations Act, sets out to answer. This informative study neatly examines the authorizers' resources (money and staff) and how they are used, oversight practices and response to school closures, and use of services available to them. To accomplish this, GAO researchers analyzed the authorizers' budgets, pored over documents and monitoring reports related to school closures, and conducted interviews. The results? Both authorizers are doing a fairly good job, but, especially for the BOE, there's lots of room for improvement. (BOE has been criticized by a recent Progressive Policy Institute report as well.) For one, the BOE gives the same level of oversight to all its schools. It would do far better to focus its energy and limited resources on struggling charters where students aren't achieving in the classroom or where internal management isn't up to par. Also, the BOE did not always review monitoring data "in time to react effectively and in a timely manner" to potential problems brewing in its charters. But most instructive is the report's finding that neither the BOE nor the PCSB has a process in place to guide schools, students, and families through a charter school closing. The study laments the possibility that, without such a process, student records may be lost, student transfers become needlessly complicated, and the authorizers do not learn from or build upon the experiences of past closures. The report is informative, and it provides valuable information, not only for D.C. charters, but for charter authorizers in other cities, too. The report is available here.

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