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Accountability and charters

The only case where closing a school is a positive thing is when students will benefit if they attend a different school. That's supposed to be the accountability piece of charter schools -- if they don't perform, they will be shut down.

But for all of the talk about accountability, we've yet to see a single Indiana charter school closed for poor academic performance. In fact, two underperforming schools just received millions in federal funds channeled through the Indiana Department of Education. Two of four School Improvement Grants awarded went to charter schools opened within the past six years.

When Indiana's charter school law was approved, I was under the obviously mistaken impression that such schools would be closed, not rewarded with millions in aid.

But perhaps it takes time for the accountability proponents to come around. Minnesota, where the charter school movement began, is just now strengthening its oversight of schools and observers say that some of the 152 charter schools are likely to close after this school year.

A new law was adopted in 2009 to address problems with administration of the schools. A 2008 audit found lax oversight by charter school authorizers.

They now must demonstrate they have the staff and financial backing to perform the additional oversight, and many are struggling to do so.

Minnesota passed its charter school law about a decade before Indiana. Perhaps it will take that long for true accountability to come to Hoosier charter schools.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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