So the response to a situation where you’re caught red handed ignoring the impartial, professional advice of your own advisory committee and reviewers to satisfy a political agenda is to rewrite the policies and regulations to make sure that it’s official that you no longer have to follow their capable guidance?
It appears that the BESE and Commissioner Chester’s thoughtful response to getting nailed passing through the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School after it received a “DO NOT RECOMMEND” evaluation from his staff, is to rewrite the rules to say that he now has Ceasarian finality over the recommendation to the BESE. No longer will the pesky peanut gallery of professional educators who review these applications be the bane of a politically motivated approval process — No sir! Now the Commish can apparently unilaterally and with finality overrule his own professional advisors and get on with it. Well the IG has a few words of his own to say about this new turn of events and the fact that apparently the BESE shoved these through with little if any public input:
Dear Commissioner Chester,
Attached is a document sent to my office by Rhoda Schneider, General Counsel of DESE. The document indicates that DESE has changed the procedures for reviewing and approving charter applications, effective April 26, 2010. The document is entitled “Application Review Process for the Award of New Charters, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, April 26, 2010.”
Under these new procedures, the Commissioner can bring applications forward to the BESE if the Commissioner determines that “the application substantially meets the criteria as set forth in the statute, regulations, and application guidance.” In my opinion, this change including the introduction of the term “substantially meets the criteria” makes the standard for approval less clear and less defined, and makes the process more vulnerable to abuse.
In previous years, the Commissioner has recommended disapproval of charters when the charter school application failed to meet “one or more” criteria. For example, during the 2008-2009 charter school approval round that included the Gloucester application, the Commissioner notified the BESE as follows with respect to two rejected finalists: “As a result of the review process, I determined that the two other proposals needed further development and revision with respect to one or more of the criteria.” Under the long-standing previously-used process, including the one used during the most recent 2009-2010 application cycle, the following check and balance had been included, as set forth in the DESE-promulgated “Application for a Massachusetts Public Charter School, Commonwealth and Horace Mann, 2009-2010, as follows:: “The [DESE] commissioner will not recommend that the Board award charters to applicant groups whose applications do not meet the stated criteria for a charter in the application, as corroborated in the final interview of the applicant group by the Charter School Office.” Under the new process, this safeguard has been eliminated and the independence of the charter school office has been diminished.
This change lowers the bar for approval of new charter schools by replacing the previous objective standard for approval or disapproval with a more subjective one. Applicants will no longer know which criteria must be met. Under the new process, the Commissioner at his sole discretion will be able determine what combination of criteria are necessary to “substantially meet” the standard for approval.
In addition, the new procedures have eliminated a previous step in the review and approval process whereby DESE Charter School officials and outside reviewers had been required to complete lengthy, detailed, written, criteria-by-criteria assessments (called Review Sheets/Rubrics) of each final charter school application. Instead, the new process eliminates the previous documented criteria-by-criteria scoring process and instead requires only that reviewers verbally “comment generally on the application, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the application, and to identify areas where clarification or further information from the applicant is needed.” The elimination of this previously-documented criteria-by-criteria assessment process will prevent outside parties, including oversight agencies such as the Inspector General’s Office, from being able to effectively audit and review the process for fairness, objectivity, and legality. It also eliminates an essential tool previously used by DESE officials to objectively measure and record whether charter school applicants do or do not meet each criterion. In my opinion, these changes represent a further diminution of the rigor and objectivity of the previous long-standing, nationally recognized, criteria-based review and approval process.
The procedural changes effectuated by DESE on April 26, 2010 are not reflected in the Proposed Amendments to 603 CMR 1.00, Charter School Regulations, which are currently open for public comment. I believe that these significant procedural changes to the charter school approval process should have been subject to input from public officials and the general public before adoption.
Please feel free to contact me if I may provide any further information.
Gregory W. Sullivan
While I’m not in agreement with the Pioneer Institute’s pro-charter position, even they are troubled by the abuse of the process that has been perpetrated by Chester, the BESE and Reville…
Check out Jim Stergios’ blog — http://boston.com/community/bl…
Story in the GDT: http://www.gloucestertimes.com…
And the point here I think is PROCESS MATTERS — it matters an awful lot when one is talking about two huge issues: educating our children and spending millions of tax dollars to do it. We should be expecting GREATER oversight and care in the selection and vetting process, not legitimizing a corruption of the method by which these schools are reviewed. Pro or con on this issue, you should be very very concerned about this new turn of events.