Fear and loathing of charter schools

Oct. 10, 2012

Katy Grimes: I received a distressed phone call yesterday from a reader about a starling accusation of school cheating.

This reader, whose children attend the Oxford Preparatory Academy, which runs charter schools in Mission Viejo and Chino, CA, said that after months of diligent, time-consuming preparation for the mandatory May Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR exams testing), and months of teachers putting in 12-hour days, the Oxford charter school students reached an outstanding score of 997 out of 1000 possible points on the Academic Performance Index.

What should be good news has turned to controversy, because someone on the  Capistrano Unified School District School Board has now accused the charter school of cheating.

The parent said that she and other parents are flabbergasted, especially after having worked along side the children and teachers, and said that the cheating accusation is likely motivated by the local teachers union.

No stranger to controversy

Capistrano Unified School District’s Superintendent Joe Farley informed charter school officials that the school’s charter could be revoked in the face of misconduct.

Apparently the accusation, thus far, is light on any actual evidence of cheating. “OPA Superintendent Sue Roche said she knows the allegations will go unsubstantiated,” the Mission Viejo Patch reported. “Farley’s letter was the first she had heard of them. Not one allegation has ever been stated to me at all,” she said.

The charter school’s board of directors has launched its own investigation into the claims, Roche said.

The Capistrano school board is no stranger to controversy. In May 2011 Superintendent Farley and the Board of Trustees were accused by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas of violating the state’s open meeting law. Again.

After an investigation, Rackauckas released a 27-page report “with a stern scolding that makes CUSD’s leaders come off like whiny second graders,” reported the Orange County Weekly. However, the DA ended up concluding that there was not enough evidence to sustain the allegations.

Rackauckas had “accused the board of violating the Brown Act: at two closed-door meetings in December when controversial furlough days for teacher and staff were discussed; at January closed sessions where teacher salaries were talked about without the labor negotiator being present as required by law; and in March when the board went from addressing an agenda item in open session to chatting about it behind the dais during a recess,”  OC Weekly reported.

“Keep in mind this is a school district that has already been slapped around and threatened with legal action over Brown Act violations dating back four years, something that prompted the board to outlaw illegal secret meetings in 2009. Supposedly,” wrote OC Weekly. Indictments were handed out in that case.

What a mess.


In 2009, another Orange County school district, the Saddleback Unified School District, fought to kill the Oxford Preparatory Academy Charter. “The proposed Oxford Preparatory Academy in Mission Viejo would present an ‘unsound education program’ that relies on ‘questionable budget assumptions and unrealistic enrollment projections,’ according to a 32-page report released today by Saddleback Superintendent Steve Fish,” the Orange County Register reported.

“The petition also does not contain ‘reasonably comprehensive’ descriptions of how it will meet 10 of the 16 elements required of charter schools under California law,” the report says.

Superintendent Fish had previously asked the school board to reject another charter school petition, which had requested to use a closed elementary school.

Charter schools a threat

The San Juan Capistrano Patch reported about a letter sent in August to members of the Capistrano Unified Education Association  teachers’ union, which announced that it planned on dividing its attention between defeating Prop. 32, which would ban unions and corporations from donating directly to candidates, and a slate of candidates in the four local school board trustee areas.

“The letter also hints that losing in both these areas could lead to another teachers strike,” the Patch reported.

It appears that the teachers union is aiming at school board candidates who have the backing of StudentsFirst, the national education reform group run by Michelle Rhee, and Hold CUSD Accountable, “a new organization opposed to current plans to further increase class sizes, shorten the school year and otherwise diminish the educational opportunities provided to students.”

“It was our collective political power that kicked out the anti-public education advocates two years ago,” teachers union President Vicki Soderberg wrote in the August letter to members, “and it will be our collective political power which maintains pro-public education advocates this year.”

Could accusing the Oxford Preparatory Academy charter school of cheating be another way of using their collective political power?

There are many stories like this, and sadly there are also stories of schools cheating. But overall, charter schools have a tremendous record of student achievement, educational success, and student-teacher accountability. And parents love charter schools.

Thus far, no one involved at the Oxford Preparatory Academy charter school was willing to talk on the record, but I will follow this story and report the outcome.

Perhaps part of the problem is the school mission, which includes emphasizing “high academic standards, respect, patriotism and courtesy.”

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