THE U.S. Government Accountability Office has produced a report on the District's two charter school authorizers that should be closely read by both groups, by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council, by District parents, and on Capitol Hill as well. The GAO report pinpoints important shortcomings in the monitoring process, especially in the oversight practices of the Board of Education. The report, however, may be more significant for what it didn't say, although the problem is evident: The District has two bodies -- the school board and the independent Public Charter School Board (PCSB) -- to oversee charter schools. One authorizer does the job much better than the other. Why, then, must taxpayers pay for two?
The GAO study released this month found that the D.C. school board failed to regularly review reports from its charter school monitoring staff. The study also found that the board's charter-school monitoring unit fails to give the same level of oversight to the schools under its jurisdiction as the PCSB gives. The latter exercises greater flexibility, intensifying oversight of schools that have problems. The difference in approach is significant. The PCSB, with its larger staff and funding, has done a much better job at focusing attention on schools that need the greatest assistance, the GAO found.
The differences only accentuate the question of whether two boards represent an efficient use of resources. Clearly charter schools require top-notch attention and oversight. More than a fifth of all D.C. students attend 52 charter schools -- a percentage larger than that of any state's students, according to the GAO. As Post staff writer V. Dion Haynes reported in September, several of the schools monitored by the school board have reported low academic achievement and high suspension and expulsion rates. While the school board can be commended for having revoked the charters of seven schools that it oversees for poor academic performance -- compared with two monitored by the PCSB -- it is fair to ask how the school board could have approved so many of what turned out to be marginal performers in the first place. The fact that the school board has considered a plan that would make the superintendent responsible for monitoring the quality of charter schools under the board's jurisdiction suggests that perhaps the board is not able to properly discharge that responsibility. Certainly the board's performance seems to point in that direction.
The time has come to take a close look at the D.C. School Reform Act passed by Congress, which designates two charter school authorizers with similar responsibilities. City and congressional leaders ought to consider limiting the school board to oversight of the traditional 167 public schools and leaving oversight of charter schools to the Public Charter School Board. The GAO report does not say this, but we believe the respective track records of the school board and the PCSB suggest that a realignment of responsibilities will serve the best interests of both bodies, and most important, the city's public school students.