I have been subbing in the bay area of N. California. Before I go out on assignment, I check the directions to get there (if I am not familiar with the area) and while I am on the website (many give directions better than our friends at MapQuest who have GPS and can not manage to give directions which are (a) logical and (b) get you there), I do a bit of a spin around….Information which I look for:
Who founded the school/organization? When?
Who is on BOD? Who is the principal (ed background), teachers (ed background)? Are there notes from the on campus meeting of parents, admin and teachers? When was the last meeting?
Test scores (particularly more than last year and this year) and analysis (I believe KIPP is the only charter school group that occassionally, at various schools, interpret the data on line)
News – is the news self generated as marketing or is the news based on an outside the school, legit ed institution using the school to improve educational practices and the data will be published in a professional journal?
Does the school offer anything different from high quality teachers, high expectations and every child to college , commitment (these items are the equivalent of getting hot running water in your apartment – by law, it must be provided)? In essence, I am looking to see how one charter school differentiates itself from the others, however, it would appear they all share the same bag of tricks – college pennants, showing graphs of student achievement (a whole other discussion), uniforms, rigid/strict rules and discipline (self discipline or time on task and behavioral discipline).
Is the charter school comparing itself to a “higher authority” i.e. state test data rather than stating the students at charter school X do better then kids in the district at a similar school. The reason I look for this is the fact that some districts are so “not in a good place” that the comparison is akin to McDonalds vs. Carls Jr. vs. Burger King vs. whatever other fast food place is out there and frankly, depending on when you take the picture of the data depends on which fast food place has better marketing, not better food, less calories, etc. I would be absolutely impressed if charter schools, especially after four or five years in existence, could offer more then beating the school district.
Is the web site current (i.e. when was the last time they posted their financials, last news post – self fabricated or other wise)? You would be amazed that schools within 50 miles of Silicon Valley and crazy high unemployment can not get websites updated. One charter school group is using the same photos of students who are now on their way to college or darn close….
Does it appear parents are involved? Charter schools are suppossed to reach out to the parents and have a better/stronger community presence than the local regular public schools.
Is the school using Rev Foods or Sodexho as the food purveyor?
All of these (and many other) factors demonstrate if the charter school is, in even a small way, adhering to the glorius promises they make about their mission, values, pillars, etc.
What is even more interesting, there seems to be a bit of a relationship to web site info and actual school site (self discipline of students and discipline for inappropriate behavior, how exhausted /harried the teachers appear, condition/carry through of school projects such as school garden). I have yet to see anything truly different at a charter school than anything at a regular school.
I guess my skepticism would be related to the idea that charter schools were supposed to save education from its quick dive off the cliff. As I talk to parents, even those who have children at a charter school, they can not explain, reasonably articulate what a charter school is or should deliver. These parents also can not explain why sending their kids to the regular neighborhood school and being involved would be different from what is happening at the charter school. In fact, when I point out similarities, parents are not sure how to respond. It is as if some one shined a bit of light into the cave of secret “coded” dialogue and the parents, for the first time, questions what is the what (to quote Dave Eggers).
In doing a basic word search regarding charter school success and successful charter schools and charter school successes, the following is all I found current (within 30 days). It is also the time of year when schools are prepping for the big test and there is nothing noteworthy or newsworthy to teaching/studying to the test.
There is a sign of hope about all of this and hopefully the unmanipulated, unmarketed truth will be set free: