D.C. Board of Education members, acknowledging that their oversight of charter schools could be better, are considering a plan that would make the superintendent responsible for monitoring the quality of the publicly funded, independently operated schools.
But the head of a leading charter school advocacy group opposes the idea and argues that the board should get out of the chartering business if it feels it can no longer handle that function.
The Board of Education oversees 18 of the 52 charter schools in the city; the other 34 are monitored by a second chartering agency, the D.C. Public Charter School Board.
Several of the 18 charter schools monitored by the Board of Education have reported low academic achievement and high suspension and expulsion rates. And over the years, seven schools overseen by the Board of Education have had their charters revoked for poor academic performance, compared with two schools overseen by the other agency.
"We are seeing dismal results in some instances," school board member JoAnne Ginsberg said. "We need to make sure all the children there are being educated."
Although charter schools are exempt from many state and local regulations so that they can pursue innovative educational approaches, the public agency that approves a school's application is responsible for monitoring its performance and can decide to close it if it fails to meet benchmarks.
At a closed-door session Tuesday, board members discussed the proposal that would shift monitoring responsibility to Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, in his role as chief state academic officer. Under the proposal, which will be discussed further at a public hearing next month, the board's executive director for charter schools would report to Janey, who would report to the board.
Some board members said that the charter school office would operate more effectively if it were placed under Janey's supervision, as are other administrative services.
The change would "put greater resources in the charter school office and in the charter schools," said school board Vice President Carolyn N. Graham. The board would retain its authority to accept or reject applications to open new charter schools, she said.
Graham said she was dismayed by a report submitted this week by the charter school office that outlined how seven of the schools have failed to make adequate yearly progress for two or more consecutive years under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
But school board member Jeff Smith (District 1) said that giving the new authority to the superintendent might violate the D.C. charter school law that Congress passed a decade ago. Smith said he would prefer establishing a subcommittee of the board to monitor the schools.
Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a charter school advocacy group, said he believed the proposal would violate the law. If the board pursues it, he said, "we will fight this with all the resources at our disposal."
Cane said that if the board is unhappy with its oversight of charter schools, it should turn over that duty to another agency.