Time for a Charter Reality Check

There are many ways to view America’s contentious education wars. My own interpretation is that–at its most basic–the conflict is between those who want to improve existing public schools and those who want to turn education over to the private sector.

There are lots of nuances to both approaches, of course, and ancillary arguments about high-stakes testing, teacher accountability, etc., tend to obscure the public/private issue. I’m too old and tired to suit up for that battle, but I will share one caution that both camps should be willing to heed.

If we are going to spend public money on Charter Schools–which remain public schools, even when they are managed by private, for-profit companies–let alone vouchers, we have an obligation to both children and taxpayers to monitor what those schools are teaching, and to ensure that their curricula are both academically sound and constitutionally compliant. A recent report from Texas should not only illuminate the problem–it also (as one of my graduate students said after reading the article) should make our flesh crawl.

When public-school students enrolled in Texas’ largest charter program open their biology workbooks, they will read that the fossil record is “sketchy.” That evolution is “dogma” and an “unproved theory” with no experimental basis. They will be told that leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth. These are all lies.

 The more than 17,000 students in the Responsive Education Solutions charter system will learn in their history classes that some residents of the Philippines were “pagans in various levels of civilization.” They’ll read in a history textbook that feminism forced women to turn to the government as a “surrogate husband.”

And that’s just the opening paragraphs from Slate’s devastating investigation of Responsive Education Solutions–a company which proposes to open four charters in Indiana next year. One of those, being conducted through an affiliate, has been authorized by Mayor Ballard’s office and will open in Indianapolis.

You need to click through to read the entire article. It’s appalling.

Here are a couple of questions for critics of our public schools: if you don’t trust “government schools” to educate children, why do you trust government officials with no particular expertise in education to select and monitor the private companies providing those educations? What safeguards against cronyism and ideology do you propose, and how will you ensure that those safeguards are in place?

Accountability isn’t just for teachers and public school administrators, and it isn’t limited to results on standardized tests.


11 thoughts on “Time for a Charter Reality Check

  1. I don’t think ANY public money should be spent on private / charter schools.
    NONE. A central public education system where ALL kids get a good education is key to a functional nation. Teaching nonsense ’cause jesus told me so, is a short cut to becoming a third rate power. Teach whatever you want in church, but stick to facts in school. If your church thinks 2 + 2 = 15, that is swell but don’t teach it to my kids.

  2. What does the Indiana State Constitution say regarding public education/private-religious education and use of tax dollars?

  3. I remember in the 1960s at Indiana University one of my education professors sharing his opinion that the U.S. system of education was so much better than England’s in which those who cannot afford private education end up in public schools and thus the age-old class system in that country is maintained. He must be rolling over in his grave. At least in England, the kids in the private schools receive the best education — not the worst. There are some excellent private schools in this state — Park Tutor in Indianapolis, some of the Catholic and other mainline Protestant schools started in the 1950s in which the goal was excellence in education. However, even today, few of these accept voucher. Most already have a waiting list. You don’t build a good private or a good public school overnight. It takes decades. Whatever the motivation for vouchers in this State, it is not about improving education for all.

  4. Hello! Thank you so much for this piece. May I ask where you found the reference to four charter schools proposed for Indiana? I have been searching and have only found the mention of the one in Indianapolis. I am planning to post your piece in a Facebook group, but would like to have chapter and verse on the other schools. Thanks for any help you can give.

  5. Very interesting stuff, so interesting that I did a quick Google search and came up with a 350+ page document buried deep in the IN State School Board’s cloud file and dated 08/23/12. A quick glance showed the four proposed sites for “Drop-Out Recovery” charter schools (gr 9-12): 1) Anderson, 2) Evansville, 3) Gary, and 4) Indianapolis. If nothing else, I’ll give credit to this group for being highly organized and attentive to detail in their application, right down to the entire scope and sequence of every academic area. Here’s the link:


  6. I had a conversation with Brandon Brown, the Charter School Director at the Mayor’s Office, and he told me he was also concerned with the Slate report. Brandon heard from Responsive Ed about the Slate story right away and he has said they have been very transparent. Right now the Charter School Office is combing through the entire curriculum and making sure that it is in line with Indiana Standards and that there aren’t any questionable references to creationism. What happens in Texas doesn’t mean that it’ll necessarily happen here, but I’m glad the Mayor’s Office is taking this seriously. The IBJ (link below) also did a story on this.

  7. There is very little charter school accountability to the public for use of public dollars.
    Parents and taxpayers have no say in charter creation in their local community and may actually oppose them, but others from far away can create them anyway. Parents and taxpayers have no say in selection of charter school board members.

    If charters are misappropriating public funds, giving hiring preference to board members’ poorly qualified relatives, charging a ‘membership fee’ before members of the public can gain admission to board meetings, or inculcating students with strange curricula and subject matter to give parents more ‘choice’, it’ll take up to 5 years to discontinue a charter – assuming a parent can get the charter sponsor to listen to complaints. I’m aware of an instance where the charter school’s headmaster was regularly reporting several of these abuses to the sponsor, but the sponsor didn’t take corrective action. The headmaster felt the only recourse was to quit, fearing potential liability for blatantly illegal practices of the board. If a headmaster with detailed accounts of wrong-doing can’t get a sponsor to respond, God help the average taxpayer seeking charter accountability.

    One of the ways to conserve school operating costs is to close school buildings. Yet as inner
    city populations have declined and Indpls. Public Schools have closed buildings, charters have
    opened older buildings and added some new ones – negating whatever tax savings the IPS school board worked so hard to save.

    Opening more and more buildings puts upward funding pressures on taxpayers while also
    pressuring all schools (charter and traditional public schools) to spread funds thinner and thinner. Everyone ultimately loses.

  8. Scrolling through the document posted earlier today, I see that Charles Cook, CEO/Superintendent/Board Member of Responsive Ed, has included his resume in the application for an IN charter school.

    Luther Rice Seminary
    B.A. Church Ministries
    Completed degree with 3.2 GPA

    An additional bit of Online research reveals that Luther Rice University, founded in 1962 and located in Lithonia, GA (Metro Atlanta), is a private Christian college and seminary with approximately 1600 students and offers bachelor, master’s, and doctoral degrees in leadership, counseling, apologetics, Christian worldview, Christian studies, and Christian ministry. The university specializes in external and distance education and is listed under “The Best Alternative Programs/Nontraditional Education” in the Comprehensive Guide to the Best Colleges and Universities in the United States, published by the American Council for University Planning and Academic Excellence (ACUPAE). Listed as its most high-profile graduate is Charles Stanley. In the likely event you’re unfamiliar with Charles Stanley, he’s the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, an evangelical mega-church trending occasionally toward a theology of fundamentalism, he’s also a televangelist preaching a gospel of prosperity (aka ‘believe and grow rich’), and he’s evidently worked out a sweet theological deal with the Southern Baptist Convention whereby he can remain the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta for as long as he wishes, despite his breaking their tenet of belief surrounding a pastor’s divorce, and providing he does not remarry. He divorced his wife of 40+ years. He has not remarried. (*I’m absolutely convinced he’s celibate. Right?)

    Moving down the Resource Ed’s ladder of founding and active leadership, we find Chief Learning Officer Alan Wimberly, EdD. He earned his EdD in Education Administration from a state-run school, the University of North Texas, and spent and continues to spend considerable time in Lynchburg, VA at Liberty University where he earned his MEd in Education Administration and is employed as an adjunct Professor of Education since 2011. Raising the flag here is Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Liberty University was founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell and advertises itself as providing a world-class Christian education and ‘Training Champions for Christ’.

    These particular men may operate the finest of charter schools, I don’t know. On the other hand, if their degrees were from Xavier or Georgetown, I’d feel more comfortable. This is coming from a person who’s not devout about much of anything, not intent on upholding any faith, or intent on dismissing any faith. I do wonder why more simple and totally free background research is not conducted when hiring any contracted group.

  9. Responsive Ed is also affiliated with the Founders Classical Academy charter school approved by the Mayor’s office to open for fall 2014. It is even more interesting, since it is part of the Barney Charter School Project of Hillsdale College in Michigan. Google Hillsdale’s current President Larry Arnn for his misteps in public comments concerning minorities. Also note the newly named Headmaster of one if the two existing charter Founders Classical Academies in the south is his daughter Kathleen Arnn. (though the press releases on Google don’t mention that fact). Hillsdale has an interesting history and present. Also note that the application for Founders to the Mayor’s office only assumes that 5% of the students will qualify for special education services, while the typical percentage in the IPS schools it lists in the application as being in the neighborhood it Midnorth neighborhood it plans to draw from is between 10 and 20% (including the well regarded IPS Center for Inquiry magnets. The Mayor’s office has not done their homework here.

  10. I am not personally familiar with Founders. I was just curious about the model and starting looking on Google. The Mayor’s office could have easily done the same. Their office needs a lesson on due diligence, before they spend the taxpayer money if the city and state to “invest” in new “high quality seats”.

  11. What about the many, many people who have paid many, many tax dollars to have their public schools teach material that is blatantly anti-Christian, historically inaccurate (or at best, out-of-context), and politically and philosophically-motivated rather than factual? It is time to allow “the taxpayers” to choose the education that they feel is most beneficial to the success of their children–not bureaucrats.

Comments are closed.