Guest column: Charter school boards need more training, guidance

By Gary Sands

Since the new Legislature convened in January, more than 40 bills related to public education have been introduced. These bills cover a wide range of topics, from funding for pre-kindergarten programs to high school graduation requirements. There is clearly widespread interest in maintaining and improving the quality of elementary and secondary education in Michigan, whether in traditional public schools or delivered through alternative means, such as charter schools or cyber schools.

Because there are so many different aspects to education reform, setting the agenda for the discussions becomes extremely important. As education reforms move through the legislative process, I would strongly encourage the Legislature to consider how to ensure that adequate oversight is included in any reforms that are adopted.

A willingness to experiment with new financing, organizational and service delivery models may be a prerequisite for progress and innovation. At the same time, some of these options can put the students at risk.

One way to mitigate this risk would be by adopting appropriate evaluation criteria and regulations for all non-traditional education models. The problem is similar to that of identifying practical ways to evaluate classroom teachers.

Meaningful teacher evaluations require that we first determine (and communicate) to the teachers exactly how their performance will be gauged. And then we must provide the teachers with the skills and knowledge that they will need to be successful.

Finally, appropriate support, in the form of either remediation or recognition, needs to be incorporated into the evaluation process. This same general outline would appeal equally well to alternative public schools.

Let me suggest two specific areas that need serious consideration.

* There is a need to provide the authorizing bodies for charter schools (and other types of public education providers) with clear guidelines for their obligations for oversight and regulation of the schools for which they are responsible. The authorizers play a critical role in the process and should be able to respond quickly and appropriately in situations where the educational quality being provided is deficient and students are at risk. The Michigan Board of Education seems a logical choice to participate in the development of uniform performance standards.

* A second area of concern is the quality of the individual boards that oversee the operations of charters, as well as other forms of alternative public education. I am sure that new board members appreciate the importance of what they have signed on to do; whether they all know how to do accomplish this is not clear.

Having served on the board of a public school academy, I know the preparation that we were given was woefully inadequate for the responsibilities we were asked to accept. Given the variety of backgrounds of these volunteer board members, there is a need to provide training in substantive areas such as human resources, finance and the state requirements.

There also is a need to inform board members of their roles and responsibilities in setting and administering school policies, ensuring that there is a clear division between the board and the school administration. One model for providing this sort of training is the Institute of Local Government at the University of Michigan Dearborn, Training might also be provided through the Michigan Board of Education, or the authorizers.

There are no simple answers to education reform. The Legislature must persevere to ensure that Michigan will have the public education opportunities that it needs.

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Charles Richards
Thu, 03/14/2013 - 1:35pm
Mr. Sands calls for the training of board members of charter schools, but he failed to say if board members of public schools should receive similar training. I know of no reason to believe that public school board members are any better qualified for their jobs than charter board members. His suggestion carries with it the risk of suffocating charter schools. The idea of charter schools is to free them from the educational establishment. He notes "situations where the educational quality being provided is deficient and students are at risk." That should be addressed by informing parents of a charter school's results. That assessment should be similar to the Center of Michigan's Value Added Matrix. Let the parents decide.
Thu, 03/14/2013 - 2:35pm
Mr. Sands offers several ideas that we have heard before, oversight, system evaluation, classroom evaluation, criteria for evaluations, regulations, performance, remediation, recognition. He also mentions teachers need to know exactly how their performance will be evaluated. And yet he offers no ideas or details for those he wants to apply his approach. Is he focusing on the how teaching is done and wants a consistency or is he focusing on the students and how they gain from the educational organizations he wants control by the State? When he speaks of evaluations is it administrative or teaching process/system/procedures that he is focused on? Does he see the knowledge and skills of the students something to be evaluated? When he talks about regulations, does he take the approach of prescriptive or performance regulations? There is so much Mr. Sands touches on, but he never offers enough to create a discussion. I can’t even tell if he wants to encourage innovation or reinforce current practices. A simple test what he us supporting would be if he wanted prescriptive or performance based regulations. Is he for command and control of how the teaching process is performed or for identifying the elements to be addressed and allowing the organizations approach them in their own effective ways? It is the age old issue, the downfall is in the details and yet Mr. Sands gives no direction to what those details might be.
Bob Schmidt
Sun, 03/17/2013 - 8:26am
Cut to the chase. If when you were on whatever board You were on and You felt that it was not right for You? Quit! Get out! Go join the elks or eagles or rotary. Maybe go bowling. Whatever you do, don't go telling the other folks on the board (or anyone else) they need some training or education or more learning to satisfy You. You are probably a lifelong, brain dead democrat that simply can't function without the state (or the likes of BHO) holding your hand and telling what & when & where to think about anything. Get a life buddy. Stay out of others lives. Liberty and Freedom for all.
David Olmstead
Sun, 03/17/2013 - 9:55am
Here's two companionable thoughts. Open up the way for professional partnerships of teachers who want to run their own charter schools. Let such teachers be both board members and employees of their schools by removing applicability of "Incompatibility of Public Office" Act from those situations. In for-profit situations, better oversight is necessary as boards are too often stripped of authority by the for-profit operator. Such stripping contracts should be challenged in court as unconstitutional delegations of public authority.