- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Even as enrollment in the District of Columbias charter schools has increased rapidly, there is not enough information available about these schools for parents to make an informed choice, according to a report released by a local nonprofit group Sunday.
The report, titled "Charter Schools in the District of Columbia: Improving Systems for Accountability, Autonomy and Competition," is based on a two-year study by the D.C. chapter of the Appleseed Center, an independent group that deals with issues of public interest and professes to take a neutral stance on charter schools.
The District currently fails to provide adequate and comparable information about both charter and traditional public schools, and any information that is available is not detailed enough to permit "reasonable judgments" is not readily available to parents and is not consistent enough to enable comparisons between different types of schools, according to the report.
Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Appleseed Center, said the deficiencies were seen in several areas including curriculum information, student-absentee rate, teacher qualifications and neighborhood safety. "All these things tell how stable a school is," he said.
Charter schools were first authorized in the District in 1996, and there are currently 39 such schools in the city. As many as one out of every eight children in the District now attends charter schools, Mr. Wyner said.
The need for information is particularly important "because with charter schools the dollar follows the child. So every time parents make a decision to send their children to a charter school, they are making public policy," he said.
He said several people interviewed by his group for the report "raised issues about the governance of charter schools, including the election and appointment of officials." The report says many charter schools boards of trustees include members with an outside, related interest, including representatives of management companies or nonprofit organizations and school employees.
Nelson Smith, director of the Public Charter School Board, disagrees with some of the reports findings, saying charter schools release information such as test scores. He also said the board has taken steps to avoid conflicts of interest by having voting without any affiliations.
The Appleseed report does not address whether charter schools have made a difference to the Districts education system. "It is too soon to tell if these schools have increased the quality of education in the District," Mr. Wyner said.
The report does, however, make several recommendations, including that the Districts newly created State Education Office be given the legal authority to collect and disseminate data on public schools.
It also recommends having a single charter school law instead of the dual laws — a federal law and a D.C. law — that currently govern the creation and regulation of charter schools in the District.
Gregory McCarthy, director of policy in Mayor Anthony A. Williams office, said the mayors office would "definitely" look into the problem of inadequate information for parents as pointed out by the report. "The whole foundation of parents being able to make choices is information," he said.


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