Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Official State Audit of DESE’s Oversight of Charter Schools: July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2013

Summary of Findings

Charter school waitlist information maintained by DESE is not accurate. A lack of accurate waitlist information may result in ineffective planning and oversight, as well as policymaking consequences such as an inaccurate assessment of demand when charter school approval, renewal, or expansion applications are considered and when the Legislature makes decisions on changes to existing limitations on the number of charter schools

As a condition of charter renewal, charter schools are required to document that they have provided innovative programs, best practices, and models for replication in public schools to DESE and sending districts. DESE is required to facilitate dissemination of this type of information and provide technical assistance in replicating successful programs. However, documentation of the development, dissemination, and replication of innovative practices is limited, and DESE has not adequately documented that it has facilitated these practices, nor has it taken action to broadly disseminate charter school innovative best practice information itself since 2009. As a result, charter schools may not be fulfilling their statutory purpose of stimulating the development of innovative public education programs and providing models for replication in other public schools. Further, DESE may be inappropriately renewing the charters of schools where these programs, practices, and models for replication have not been developed.

DESE does not ensure the reliability of data submitted to it by schools and districts. Without sufficient oversight and monitoring by DESE of the accuracy of schools’ reported data, there is an increased risk that unreliable or inaccurate data will be used by DESE,

DESE and the Executive Office of Education have inadequate controls over data security in DESE’s Student Information Management System (SIMS) and Education Personnel Information Management System (EPIMS) data collection systems. Specifically, controls are not adequate with regard to password settings, session locks, detection of inappropriate use, policy documentation related to information security, system configuration changes, security training for system users, and auditing of access security control. These deficiencies impair DESE’s ability to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data collected and maintained in SIMS and EPIMS and heighten the risk of data loss, alteration, or unauthorized use.

During our audit period, DESE was inconsistent in its decisions regarding whether to impose conditions for some school charter renewals. Inconsistency in charter renewal decisions can cause multiple problems: charter schools may not clearly understand expectations, schools may be missing the opportunity to receive important feedback, parents may be misinformed about schools’ performance, and children may receive substandard academic programs

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