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Accountability for charter schools

Published (3/23/2012)
By Erin Schmidtke
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Charter schools could have a new set of accountability standards as early as this year.

Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine) sponsors HF2714, which would establish heightened guidelines for charter schools throughout the state. The bill would designate student achievement as the primary purpose of these schools, and propose schools achieve that by maintaining a rate of 35 percent or greater student proficiency in reading and math. All pupils would have to demonstrate at least an average rate of “on-track” growth as well, or the school could be shut down.

The House Education Finance Committee laid the bill over March 20 for possible inclusion in a later bill. It has no Senate companion.

Woodard said the bill was necessary to ensure all charter schools in Minnesota meet the highest standards. He highlighted a portion of the bill that would broaden the pool of teachers available to charter schools by allowing those with out-of-state licenses to instruct students, if they meet certain requirements.

Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) successfully offered an amendment that further emphasizes the need for student achievement in charter schools. The amendment also aligns the bill with a new law requiring teachers to pass a reading, writing and mathematics skills test.

The bill received support from some charter school administrators, who claimed that many existing charter schools are not sufficiently closing the education achievement gap. Eric Mahmoud, founder of Harvest Preparatory School and Best Academy in the Twin Cities, described the need for increased accountability and student achievement in charter schools.

“We have an opportunity to change the landscape of education. Even though we face challenges, I am very optimistic,” Mahmoud said.

Other educators and administrators urged the committee to reconsider the need for the bill. Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, expressed concern that parents and school staff could be cut out of the charter school governing process. He also criticized the bill for allowing teachers with out-of-state licenses to teach in Minnesota, a concern echoed by Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls).

“I can’t see that the agenda here is about teaching and learning. So it does make me wonder what the agenda is about wanting unlicensed teachers in the state teaching in our public schools,” Davnie said.

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