A charter school founded by union boss John Dougherty to help prepare minority students to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union and thereby help diversify this overwhelmingly white union has no records of any students entering the union’s apprentice program upon graduation … 15 years after the school was created.
According to a recent Daily News/Inquirer report, Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter School may not have helped minority students get well-paid union jobs, but it has enabled members of Doughterty’s family to get well-paying charter school jobs, including his daughter, who makes $115,000 as the school’s CEO. The school does boast a high graduation rate, and nearly 50 percent go on to college, though no one knows how many graduate from college.
The minority participation in unions is abysmal in this city, and union and political leaders have made noises for years about how to improve. That’s why the lost opportunity of a taxpayer-funded charter school to help increase diversity is such a disappointment.
But more troubling is what this report underscores: the lack of oversight into the performance of charter schools and the paucity of data that measure how well they are doing as an alternative to conventional public schools.
It’s been 20 years since the state authorized the creation of charter schools, and despite the fact that state Auditor General Euguene DePasquale has called it the worst charter law in the country, state lawmakers have accomplished no meaningful reform.
The most recent attempt of “reform,” in House Bill 97, has elements that would standardize aspects of charter operations, but also contains problematic changes; it appears to be at a standstill. Other recent attempts have done nothing to address financial and oversight issues of charters, such as how school districts get reimbursed for the large revenue holes that increased charter enrollments create. Other “reform” attempts to loosen enrollment caps and lengthen the time period between charter reauthorizations could, in the absence of meaningful oversight, be disastrous.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers seem obsessed with expanding charter schools — without having a clue about how they operate or caring about how to improve them.
For example, the state Department of Education is supposed to collect data about charter schools; it hasn’t posted updates on academic performance since 2011. And the last time annual reports on each charter school were posted was 2013/14.
Last year, Gov. Wolf announced that the creation of a charter school division within the Education Department. We’re still waiting.
The School District of Philadelphia has upped its game on charter management. It creates a school progress report for how each charter is performing in four major categories: achievement, progress, climate, and college and career. It also assigns an overall score for each school, which indicates action to be taken: intervene, watch, reinforce and model. ( Electrical and Technology Charter has a score of 49, putting it into the “watch” category.)
If lawmakers were serious about improving education, they would demand as much information as possible from all schools, including the number of high school graduates who go on to graduate college. That data, too, is nearly impossible to find.
Then again, given a new Pew Research Center study published this week that 58 percent of Republicans now believe colleges and universities harm the state of the union, that might explain why our Republican-dominated Legislature may be so indifferent to improving education at the primary and secondary levels.