Commonwealth Court supports denial of Pittsburgh charter school's renewal

By Jim Boyle | May 21, 2014

A Pittsburgh-based charter school's appeal to have the denial of its charter reversed has

been struck down by Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court, according to an opinion published on May 19.

The three panel court agreed with the School District of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania State Charter School Appeal Board (CAB) that Career Connections Charter High School failed to adhere to its original charter and has not shown adequate student performance.

The school began operating in the 1999-2000 school year, and had its charter renewed twice, in 2002 and 2007. After the school submitted paperwork for its third renewal in 2011, the school district sent a review team, which recommended against the application.

According to the opinion authored by President Judge Dan Pellegrini, the review team found that Career Connections had several violations against its own charter and the state charter school law. A follow-up hearing supported those claims and maintained the denial. The list of violations included:

  • Failure to achieve adequate yearly progress and show sustained progress in improving student performance.

  • Failure to offer a choice between two daily calendars

  • Failure to offer a year-round calendar

  • Failing to maintain adequate support as shown in decreasing enrollment numbers

  • Failing to offer valuable and meaningful learning

  • Experiences through the use of the internship by all students

Another appeal to the CAB once again affirmed the school district's findings, leading representatives at Career Connections to make their case to the Commonwealth Court.

The measurements for student progress is the same for public schools, performance on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, which sets an annual target percentage for student proficiency in certain subjects. According to the most recent data, in 2011-2012, the state target for math was 78 percent, and Career Connections only met 36.5 percent. The target for reading was 81 percent, with the school hitting 50.8 percent. In fact, according to the court opinion, Career Connections failed to meet the annual targets for seven consecutive years.

The findings also showed that the school did not adhere to its own model described in the original charter application, such as setting up a flexible two-schedule that would accommodate families with conflicting transportation, child care or employment problems. The school also pledged to follow a two-semester, three term per semester model that would reduce the amount of summer break and the likelihood of learning loss. Both schedule plans were quickly discarded without the school district's approval.

With the longstanding violations, the Commonwealth Court stated it had no choice but to affirm the rulings of the lower courts.

"The material violations, coupled with Career Connections’ failure to meet student performance requirements, support the CAB’s decision not to renew Career Connections’
charter," Pellegrini wrote.

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