December 18, 2014

Mystery Parents Take Some of the Mystery Out of Charter School Enrollment

Charter school authorizers in the District of Columbia have taken up a new tactic to attempt to ensure that their charter schools are not turning away students who have specialized needs, such as those with a disability. Modeled on the “mystery shopper” used in retail, staffers pose as parents of students with a disability and call charter schools inquiring about the schools’ enrollment process, according to The Notebook blog in Philadelphia.

According to the blog:
If the school answers all the questions about the enrollment process correctly, it passes. If the school answers any question inappropriately — for example, if it tells the “parent” that the school across the street is better suited for students with disabilities — the charter board calls back again at a later date. If the school gives a wrong answer twice, it gets a warning. And if it fails to address the problem, its charter could be revoked.

The program has been running for three years. In the first year, 2011-12, 11 schools gave inappropriate answers in the first round of mystery calls, and 10 such schools failed to respond appropriately in the second round. By 2013-14, 17 schools gave inappropriate answers in the first round and two did so in the second round, according to the blog. The wrong answers in the second round of 2013-14 were partially attributed to the District’s new single enrollment system.

“We started this because there was a huge perception among the public that charters counseled out students with disabilities,” says Naomi R. DeVeaux, the deputy director for the district’s public charter school board. “We wanted to know if this was true,” the blog quotes her as saying.

The blog notes that Massachusetts has started a similar mystery parent program.