Charter schools are considered a possible solution to high drop out rates offering a variety of different schedules and programs that could be more appealing to some troubled students. But in Nevada they report the highest level of dropout rates according to state statistics, up to 30 percent in the first year the state collected data in 1999. That's just one of a host of problems some charter schools face. Next month the Liaison to Charter Schools for the School District plans to recommend that one be shut down. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.
SOUND: Class Room
PLASKON: This is not a typical classroom. There are more computers than there are students for instance. The 230-or so students virtually attend. Ted Smith doesn't call himself a teacher, rather an on-line facilitator for Clark County Team Academy.
SMITH: On Line Facilitator, it is a different animal, it is an on-line high school so the kids do most of their work at home, they only have to come here once a week, their attendance is actually on line.
PLASKON: So what do you do then?
SMITH: I still teach, but I teach differently, actually facilitate, it s a little different. The difference is me standing in front of a bunch of kids and being bored to death and taking notes or not taking notes, in an on-line chat room I can tell if they are actually participating or not, because in an on-line chat room the desk will just sit there and nothing will happen.
PLASKON: One such classroom or rather chat room he told students about computers . . . students complain about the cost of being on line all the time, they talked about their nails, eating pizza, what's on TV. Most of the discussion was Mr. Smith encouraging the students to write letters asking the School District not to shut down the school. That's what Cynthia Torres was doing in the actual computer room.
TORRES: I didn't like the other schools, I can progress a lot better and I can work.
KADLUB: The recommendation that I will be making is to revoke the charter. We feel they have breached the contract.
PLASKON: Craig Kadlub is the Liaison to Charter Schools for the Clark County School District. He says that the Clark County Team Academy hasn't kept its promise to pay into the public employees retirement system on time among a dozen other problems. Kadlub warned the school's principle back in April that it faced a revocation of its charter. But according to Principle Frank Mitchell, they've kept enrolling anyway.
MITCHELL: Yes, we will be enrolling students until about September 22.
PLASKON: One problem the school has had is keeping track of how many students are on its rolls. At one point Mitchell thought he had more than 300 and budgeted for that. But the state said he had only 230 students, a considerable difference in terms of getting paid the 5,000 dollars per student the sate pays after counting them. The School went into debt Kadlub says.
KADLUB: So the cynical perspective is that the school wants to stay open long enough just to survive count day get that October fist payment and pay off a whole bunch of debts, I don't believe that is in the best interest of students.
PLASKON: Mitchell has already started an appeal process to the possible revocation of the schools charter. As with most charter schools in Nevada, Mitchell opened the Clark County Team Academy to serve kids at risk of dropping out. A former counselor he saw that students in independent study dropping out at a rate higher than 50 percent. He saw students in foster care families dropping out at rates of 80 percent. He decided it is mainly because they need a flexible schedule and readily available assistance.
MITCHELL: The demand, the need is so relevant, there are so many kids that need this kind of situation in order to get their education.
PLASKON: So with a computer and software at home he hoped troubled students could work when they want. State statistics show charter school drop out rates are still high, between 6 and 30 percent. Mitchell says it's too early to say Charter Schools aren't working.
MITCHELL: That figure, I don't know how fair it is. Charter schools are relatively new, seven years old at best, at best. People come I, they try it, they don't like it, they go out. I think they are skewed a little bit.
PLASKON: Of Nevada's 14 charter schools that have been in operation at least a year, the students at 5 are not meeting testing standards, two are considered high achieving schools. Mitchell believes the test results aren't fair either because they show the inadequate knowledge that troubled students gained during their years at regular public schools. According to the National Federation of Teachers, students at charter schools across the country consistently show lower test results than at public schools. Clark County Charter School Liaison Craig Kadlub is growing weary.
KADLUB: Charter dream is kind of going belly up. Because originally 10-12 years ago when the movement was getting a foothold everyone was saying you give us the same per pupil allocation that public schools get and we will show you how its done.
PLASKON: School districts across the state are growing more weary too. Clark County refused a charter school application in Henderson, Carson City refused another and two were refused in Reno. While school districts can refuse an application, the law doesn't the state to refuse applications. So for the first time this year the state has sponsored all four charter schools. There are potentially 9 more charter school applications with the state for Fall of 2005, doubling the number of charter schools in Nevada over last year to nearly 30.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR