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AG's Action on Diploma Mill May Just Be the Beginning

Last week, Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the assets of Houston-based Lincoln Academy and its affiliate, Brownstone Academy, would be frozen and a restraining order was issued to prevent them from doing business. Both claimed to be accredited by the National Home School Accreditation of America. The only problem is that the NHSA is not an accrediting body. It's merely a website. Many consumers confused the NHSA with the legitimate organization, the Texas Home School Coalition.

Efforts by the Consumer Protection Division of the AG's office were prompted by over 100 complaints against the two academies. A simple search on the Internet reveals poor reviews of the diploma mill for well over a two year period.

School choice in Texas is a hot topic right now, and it's more difficult than ever for parents and students to choose wisely. The choices include public schools, magnet schools, charter schools (both public and private), home-rule charter schools, private schools, homeschooling and online cyber-schools; within each one of the confusing categories are hundreds of schools, all with different missions and student populations. Opportunists are perfectly aware of the confusion and it provides them with plenty of prospects to deceive and mislead.

This is precisely the reason that Lincoln and Brownstone fell through the cracks of Texas' oversight; in addition to the fact that the number of TEA personnel who monitor such schools is limited since the agency's staff purge a decade ago.

In the Houston area alone, there are nearly 100 charter schools. And horror stories abound locally.

There was the Northwest Preparatory School staff member who almost broke a girl's arm because she wanted to use the restroom. The Houston Gateway Academy principal who was charging tuition in violation of state law.

So, what does it take to find a good school?

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Doing research and choosing wisely is the key. Look at test scores, but realize these can be manipulated by attrition, forcing potentially low-performing students out just before test time. Most importantly, follow the money. Who is on the board of directors of the school? What connections do they have? Beware of those headed by corporations, hedge fund managers and bankers.

When considering schools outside the public realm, follow the research. In the broad range of charter studies, the general consensus is that charter schools fare no better than public schools. With regard to vouchers, a popular cri du cœur of Texas conservatives, the National Assessment of Educational Progress show they are less effective than the average public school.

With millions of public education tax dollars available, much of it unmonitored, it only stands to reason that unscrupulous individuals are drawn into this area. Alternative education claims that competition for public education is a good thing, but sometimes competition causes these same schools to falsify test scores or to drive out those students who might lower campus test results.

In short, parents should talk to other parents and scour the Internet before moving their children to schools outside of public education. There is a P.T. Barnum mindset out there, so make sure to beware.

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