‘We Were Doing Kids a Disservice’: Former Charter School Teacher Recalls Lack of Oversight and Accountability

charter_waste_1“Nothing short of insane”- that’s how special education teacher Britt Mickley describes her experience at a Columbus, Ohio, charter school. During a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) on January 30th, Mickley chronicled the poor learning conditions that became entrenched at the elementary school where she taught.

“This school needed to close, since we were doing all these kids a disservice,” Mickley said.

Although Ohio is notorious for its failing charter schools – a majority received an F on the state school report card – negative experiences like Mickley’s are shared by educators across the country. They stem from the biggest flaw in the current charter school system – a systemic lack of accountability and effective oversight.

According to Mickley, many of her co-workers at the elementary school  – run by a husband and wife team that had no background in educational leadership – were not professionally-trained educators. The school advertised positions on Craigslist and accepted people “desperate for any sort of work,” Mickley said.

Adequate resources were scarce. Mickley often paid for classroom supplies and lunch for students out of her own paycheck. In a class filled with students with special needs, including a student who was fully blind and couldn’t walk to classes without assistance, Mickley’s students would have greatly benefited from specialists, such as speech pathologists and psychologists. However, after pleading for the resources her class needed, administrators denied her requests, leaving her completely alone to work with the students.

During the panel discussion, Mickley also recounted one notorious meeting during which administrators notified the entire teaching staff that the school lacked the funding to pay them. Each teacher was asked to write down how much money they could give back to the school, so that administrators could pool the money and pay the teachers at least a small portion of their earned salary. When they expressed discomfort with giving back a portion of their meager earnings, the administrators asked every individual to write down a name of a teacher who could be fired.

Teacher Britt Mickley discusses charter school oversight at a panel sponsored by the Center for Popular Democracy on Jan. 30 2015.

Teacher Britt Mickley discusses charter school oversight at a panel sponsored by the Center for Popular Democracy on Jan. 30 2015.

Understandably disgusted, many of the educators quit soon afterwards.

Mickley documented all the problems she witnessed, but after she presented the records before school and district administrators, she was fired. Mickley now works at a public school, where she says there is a noticeable difference in the level of accountability.

“If you can’t get away with much in a public school, why can you get away with so much in a charter school?” Mickley wonders.

These schools were originally created to support innovative educational models through public funding, but few regulations and systems of oversight have been implemented to ensure that they are truly serving their students and communities. According to the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) and Integrity in Education, the charter school industry is riddled with over $100 million of taxpayer money in waste and fraud. Mismanagement has been identified in 15 out of the 42 states that have charter schools, with school administrators using public funding ineffectively or even illegally.

In a new follow-up report, CPD alleges that the level of waste and corruption in the Illinois charter industry may be as high as an estimated $27.7 million in in 2014 alone, and finds that the state has no system in place to properly monitor and supervise charter school projects.

“Operators continue to line their pockets unchecked while public schools are forced to slash programs due to lack of funding,” said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García. “Lawmakers need to stop treating education budgets like a slush fund for corporate charter school operators and hold them accountable to the students and communities they are supposed to be serving.”

At the CPD panel, Leigh Dingerson, a consultant at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, noted how federal finding has contributed to the rapid growth of charter schools. National funding for charter schools began in 1994, and has steadily increased to support the 2.1 million students who attend these schools across the country.

“The federal funding stream has played an incredibly important role in the growth of charter schools, but the capacity and oversight has not increased at the same rate,” Dingerson said.

By merely throwing money at these new schools without requiring the necessary accountability measures, “you’re allowing bad apples to be brought in,” she added.

Dingerson also pointed to the obstacles many charter schools impose that make it difficult for already disadvantaged students to enroll. Acceptance is often based on standardized test scores, and mandatory in-person enrollment procedures can be unduly burdensome for many low-income working parents.

These boundaries to enrollment are some of the “largest examples of failing accountability,” Dingerson said.

Read more about NEA’s position on charter school accountability and transparency.

  • Toby Montezuma

    Re ” Mickley often paid for classroom supplies and lunch for students out of her own paycheck.” I say…welcome to Los Angeles Unified 🙁

    And as for “obstacles many charter schools impose that make it difficult for already disadvantaged students to enroll”: well, duh! They DON’T WANT those kids! It’s easy to show “improvement” if you eliminate the kids whose parents don’t care or are too busy.

  • Ron Poirier

    “If you can’t get away with much in a public school, why can you get away with so much in a charter school?” Mickley wonders.

    Because of the Golden Rule — he who has the gold, makes the rules!

  • Ed Simons III

    Charter schools are great, in theory, but my experience is that there is little accountability. These schools are also being started and operated by people who can not operate in the public school system. T

  • Pingback: ‘We were doing kids a disservice': Former charter school teacher recalls lack of oversight and accountability « Education Votes()

  • Lisa

    As a public school teacher I was shocked to meet two charter school teachers at a workshop that admitted their aides were taking care if their students while attending the workshop. Both aides only had a highschool education.

  • CM

    As with most education systems, there are the good, the bad and the ugly. The same ‘evidence’ (or lack there of) can be found in public school systems. This is not stated in support of what this reports, just acknowledging that it is unfair to jump to the conclusion that ALL charters are operated this way. PS – I am an NEA member, and public school teacher.

    • Penny Culliton

      In over 30 years of teaching, I have never encountered a situation in which a student unable to get from one class to another was ignored and went unassisted, or in which teachers were asked to donate money to colleagues, or in which admin asked teachers to recommend which of their colleagues could be fired, CM.

      Please tell us where we can find the evidence of this sort of thing in public schools.

      • OneHumbleAmerican

        You can find this all over the country. I saw it in Utah.

        • Penny Culliton

          That’s pretty broad. What exactly did you see, and in which town/city?

  • Maryalice Leister

    Whenever these discussions come up – and we all know it happens dozens of times a day – as I read them, I hear a haunting version of this song: http://youtu.be/rkRIbUT6u7Q running through my head. I just shake my head. Something needs to happen, but who has the power to do it? Thank you, Britt Mickely – sure wish we could talk.

    • OneHumbleAmerican

      When people get brave enough to post their actual phone number, contact may be made personally – and you can talk. I posted mine at a newspaper site once – and only one phone call resulted. We act as if we’re all afraid of each other.
      Be courageous.

      • Maryalice Leister

        I am probably naive (although much less so lately), but one big reason for the “little people” not posting phone numbers is what the internet will and does do with them. I’m pretty sure that’s not what you mean, though. And I do agree even when posted, they aren’t used.

        • OneHumbleAmerican

          Not afraid.

  • Pingback: ‘We Were Doing Kids a Disservice': Former Charter School Teacher Recalls Lack of Oversight and Accountability | Illinois Education Association()

  • Linda Johnson

    Mickley was fired because she didn’t understand the true goal of the charter, which was to siphon public money into private pockets. This is being done mainly in poor districts where parents may or may not know what is going on.

    It is unlawful to misuse public funds so I hope Mickley goes to federal and state agencies with her story. Sadly I suspect the state of Ohio is in on it.

    The general population still is not aware of this hustle. When they are, I believe the fraud will stop. Charter schools might continue but they will do so with the strict oversight of the money that any tax supported institution should expect.

    • Adam Berry

      Ohio is definitely in on it. Many of Kasich’s biggest campaign contributors are making huge amounts of money off of for-profit charter schools.

      • julzy

        Yep! That’s why his goal is to eliminate public education all together! How this evil man got voted back into office is beyond me!

        • Stephanie Pelka-Cole

          Because voters in Ohio are shortsighted and have short attention spans and fell for his “home grown son of working class people, who worked hard and succeeded” campaign commercials.

  • Lori C

    The special education students needs are not being met in public school systems either. They place them in the mainstream under the guise of “least restrictive environment” or “inclusion” even though it is not the correct placement for them in order to save the almighty dollar.

    Legislators are making sure that public schools fail as well so that they can get out of the “business” of education and have it “privatized” which we all know will only widen the gap between the privileged few and the disadvantaged.

    What I want to know, is what is the union doing to inform the public of these issues? Why is it that you are publishing this to educators which is, in effect, preaching to the choir? I don’t see or hear anything that is trying to improve the image of teachers and our education system. STOP wasting money on publications sent to your union members and START putting the money into PR for the teaching profession.

    • OneHumbleAmerican

      What is the union doing to inform the public of these issues?Nothing, it would appear. The unions, or in some cases, the teachers’ associations – are really A BIG PART OF THIS PROBLEM.

      Their PR, on behalf of teachers, OR students, is atrocious – it is almost non-existent. Really poor. I don’t “pay” them.

      Many state associations do not seem to know what to do – or how to organize. One local “union” leader in a UTAH school district was SLEEPING WITH a “petty authority.” This is definitely a “conflict of interest.”

      Doing NOTHING ALLOWS local school boards and governments
      [ which have the money and the power and SOME of the law on their side] – to prescribe whatever they want to public schools. Most “follow along” with federal policies. – or have no choice. They follow the federal money, so desperately needed. The feds give – and they taketh away. It’s called survival.

    • Kaylee6

      Depends where you are. In the so-called “right to work” states, unions are about as useful as a chocolate teapot. The unions tell the school boards “We want this.” The school boards say “no.” And the unions call for a strike…oh, wait, no they don’t, because if you strike, you’re fired. They say “Um, please?”

      Educators are trying to take the message directly to the parents, because maybe if enough parents agitate, something will be done. In some places, teachers are intimidated by threats of retaliation, so others speak for them–mostly former and retired educators, because we have nothing to lose.

  • Tori Vazquez

    It is time for our country to realize that our public schools are struggling because society is struggling. American students bring their struggles with them into their schools. We, the faculty and staff of public schools do our best for them, but their problems are big and our budgets are very limited.
    Let’s start small, by raising minimum wage to a living wage, and no longer giving public school dollars to grossly ineffective charters.

  • Zena Bates

    Has anyone read Building A Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green? There are educators out there studying and testing how to have a common method of teaching. It gave me hope. Where is NEA on this?

  • Charis Boissevain

    No accountability is a scary and dangerous thing. In Texas the largest charter school company is Responsive Education Solutions. They are a private company and mentally ill teachers find big loopholes to work for them because Responsive Education Solutions do not ask the teacher applicant if they have a serious psychiatric illness, and if they are taking medications for it. We always hear about safety concerns about mentally ill students…but what about safety concerns about mentally ill teachers. I know a man whose wife physically abused him and did not take her Bipolar meds…she is now a teacher at a Responsive Education Solution charter school…she also paid to have a criminal record expunged. Why is there so little oversight in these schools.

  • Charis Boissevain

    No accountability is a scary thing. Responsive Education Solutions is the largest charter school company in Texas. They are a private company, and do not ask about teacher applicant psychiatric health issues…resulting in teachers with serious mental problems able to find teaching positions with them. There is a mentally ill teacher who works for Responsive Education Solutions. She paid quite a bit of money to have her criminal record expunged. She is known to be domestically violent to her husband. Now she works with children in a Responsive Education Solutions School. We always hear about mentally ill students… what about the mentally ill teachers finding loopholes in charter schools?