By Claudia Vargas, The Philadelphia Inquirer
When New Jersey approved nine new charter schools on Monday, it also announced a new accountability system aimed at setting uniform standards to evaluate the success of charters over time.
The annual "Performance Framework" will examine academic achievement, financial performance, and governance in the state's 86 charter schools. Schools will do a self-review, evaluated by the state.
Previously, the state simply relied on each school's initial application plan to hold the schools accountable, said Barbara Morgan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.
The new framework "clearly spells out expectations" for all charter schools, Morgan said. Schools will have to rate themselves in dozens of categories, ranging from student achievement on state proficiency tests to cash flow.
In the end, as is the case now, probation or revocation of a charter will still be on a case-by-case basis.
In this last year, several Camden charter schools have faced state scrutiny. Only one has been placed on probation.
Four charter schools have not made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in test scores for a few years as calculated through the federal No Child Left Behind process.
Lagging furthest behind is Distinctions in Urban Education Seasons Charter School, which did not improve test scores for several years, though it made significant progress this year.
Camden Promise Charter, part of the Camden Charter School Network, and Freedom Academy Charter have each missed test improvement marks for at least three years and LEAP Academy University Charter School also has missed AYP the last two years.
The state recently placed Freedom Academy on probation because of its failure to make academic progress. The middle school could have its charter revoked if its academic performance does not improve and if it does not implement a remedial plan by mid-August, according to a letter from the state sent to Freedom Academy officials in May.
This is the second probation for Freedom Academy. In October 2008, the school was put on probation because of operational issues. Beyond poor academic performance, charter schools have come under investigation this year for fiscal mismanagement or abuse allegations.
LEAP recently paid back $136,368 to the state Education Department for payments it received for nonallowable expenses during the 2009-10 school year and submitted a plan to correct its problems.
The state also is auditing use of federal funds at Distinctions in Urban Education Charter School, while its office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance is also conducting an investigation into allegations of staff members abusing children, Morgan said.
School employee Lawrence Carpenter, son of the school's founder, Doris Carpenter, was charged with aggravated assault after a mother of a student reported that Carpenter had beaten her son. The incident was caught on video, which the Camden County Prosecutor's Office is reviewing as part of its investigation, said Prosecutor's Office spokesman Jason Laughlin.
Carpenter still works for the charter school.
"The N.J. Department of Children and Families, Institutional Abuse and Investigation Unit, completed an investigation and issued a finding which concluded that the allegations were 'unfounded.' This is a personnel matter and cannot be discussed any further," school spokeswoman Olivia Glenn wrote in an e-mail.
She also said she could not comment on the recent hiring of former South Philadelphia High principal LaGreta Brown as interim administrator at the school. Brown resigned from the district after The Inquirer raised questions about her lack of state certification. She also was criticized for her handling of December 2009 attacks on 30 Asian students at the school.
Camden is now home to nine charter schools. Four remain in the pipeline to open in September 2013.
(c)2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer