Operational publicy for charter schools

I’ve been blogging a lot, and I’ve had good reason. I’m practicing structured procrastination. It’s the ninth week of a ten week quarter, so I have a few major projects to finish, including a policy paper on charter school accountability and quality.

Once I finish that, I’m on to the fun stuff: analyzing some survey data on religiosity then modeling cross-country math achievement test scores using liking-for-math and country-level cultural values as predictors.

I’m just having trouble making this charter school paper come together. I already thought about charter school accountability and didn’t come to any conclusions, at least not anything interesting enough to write about. What interesting conclusions could there be? I can only think of relatively uninteresting ones:

  • Charter schools don’t operate in a free market for education, so market forces aren’t going to ensure they do a good job and aren’t going to force the worst ones out of business.
  • Charter schools sometimes do better than traditional public schools but often do worse. That’s what you’d expect. If you deregulate (or partially deregulate) a sector, you’re going to allow both higher quality and lower quality entrants in.
  • Colorado already has pretty good charter laws, according to these rankings.
  • Charter schools probably don’t get closed readily enough because it’s too politically difficult to do so. Far more charters are opened than closed — and they can’t all be that good.
  • Charter schools aren’t engines of innovation for the public school system, at least as far as classroom practice goes. They do, however, show what might be accomplished if you push control down to the school level vs. keeping it at the district level.

While procrastinating, I’ve been reading blogs and writing blog posts and trying to find some inspiration for this paper so I can get it written and move on to the fun stuff — I promised myself I can’t do the data analysis projects until I write the paper. Yesterday afternoon I finally found some inspiration, the idea of “operational publicy.” Yes, that word “publicy” is awful, but the concept is right on.

Charter schools should open up their operations and their data to public scrutiny, not just their test scores and demographics which are already released in school report cards, but everything they do. After all, they are getting public dollars for their work.

On the same topic, from the Economist special report on managing information:

Providing access to data “creates a culture of accountability”, says Vivek Kundra, the federal government’s CIO. One of the first things he did after taking office was to create an online “dashboard” detailing the government’s own $70 billion technology spending. Now that the information is freely available, Congress and the public can ask questions or offer suggestions. The model will be applied to other areas, perhaps including health-care data, says Mr Kundra—provided that looming privacy issues can be resolved.

Love the idea of a “culture of accountability,” but of course there are “looming privacy issues” in releasing school data too. Should you release teacher attendance data? You’re probably not going to point out individual teachers who miss a lot of school but what about aggregated data? What about administrator salaries compared to teacher salaries by school? Lesson plans? Results of parent satisfaction surveys? These are things the public should have access to.