Archive for the ‘Charter Schools’ Category
Monday’s announcements that all three charter schools in the Believe Network would likely have their charters revoked at the end of the school year were no surprise to those who have been following recent news about these schools and the network which runs them. From security camera footage that showed Believe students were being forced to attend classes in factory space to the photo of Believe CEO Eddie Calderon-Melendez charging a New York Post photographer, evidence suggested that both the state’s investigation into the Network’s finances and the DOE’s review of the school’s management would find multiple egregious violations of the school leaders’ legal responsibilities.
As the DOE’s own revocation letter for Williamsburg Charter High School notes, Mr. Calderon-Melendez and his schools’ Boards have a long history of questionable dealings, including the decision of the boards to pay him huge salaries ($478,000 in 2009 and $378,000 in 2010) even as the schools he managed were failing into so much debt that they were eventually unable to pay their rent. More »
Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer’s new study of 35 New York City charter schools attempts to find a preliminary answer to the question of how different practices within charters are correlated with student progress on math and ELA tests. In general, this study’s premise and methods represent a promising shift away from just looking at test scores to measure school quality; it acknowledges variations between charters and gets to the issue of what policies and practices are actually happening inside these schools.
The researchers looked at a wide variety of possible practices based on surveys of principals, interviews with teachers, visits to schools, and reviews of site visit reports from authorizers. The result was that they found five policies that were significantly correlated to increased test scores: “frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations.” As Matt DiCarlo recently noted, the efficacy of some these factors in raising test scores — particularly increased instructional time — has also been supported in other studies.
The finding that’s getting the most attention, however, is their conclusion that “class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree” wasn’t positively correlated with test scores at these schools.
There are several problems with putting too much emphasis on either of these preliminary findings, however. More »
The front page of today’s New York Times carries a devastating feature portrait of ‘virtual’ schooling, and the K-12 corporation founded by former Reagan Secretary of Education William Bennett which is making a financial killing off of indefensible ‘virtual’ charter schools. This is the unseemly reality of the future of American education advocated by Terry Moe in his Orwellian titled book, Liberating Learning.
Over at the Shanker Institute blog, Matt DiCarlo has done a great job sifting through the latest research on charter schools in a recent three-part series of blog posts. His first post looks at some of the latest data on charter schools’ impact on student achievement, and concludes that:
the endless back-and-forth about whether charter schools “work” — whether there is something about “charterness” that usually leads to fantastic results — has become a massive distraction in our education debates. The evidence makes it abundantly clear that that is not the case, and the goal at this point should be to look at the schools of both types that do well, figure out why, and use that information to improve all schools.
Matt follows his own advice in the second post, which reviews research which looks at what educational policies are implemented at the charter schools which do seem to have positive effects on student achievement. Examining a variety of studies over the past few years, he finds that
An emphasis on discipline seems to have some support, both in direct tests of associations as well as in a surface review of practices in high-profile charters. This might be something to which regular public schools should pay more attention, as the importance of a safe, orderly learning environment is well-established (see here). Needless to say, regular public schools would probably approach the details of these policies in a different way.
The strongest evidence, however, is that for extended time and perhaps tutoring (as well as the funding that enables these practices).
This does not match up particularly well with the rhetoric of “innovation.” If there are any consistent lessons from the charter experiment, at least in terms of test-based effects, they seem to tell us what we already know — that performance can be improved with more resources, more time and more attention. These interventions are not cheap or new, and they’re certainly not “charter-specific” in any way.
A recent SchoolBook article on the high teacher turnover at one of Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Schools raises an important question in the debate over improving urban schools — how can we stop corporate education reform’s focus on “getting rid of bad teachers” from creating a level of instability in school staffing that hurts our city’s students?
The case of turnover in the Harlem Success schools is only the latest example of this issue, but it’s a striking one. Over a third of the teachers at Harlem Success 3 have chosen to leave the school in the past few months, a decision Moskowitz describes as “frankly, unethical.” At the same time, however, Moskowitz chooses to employ her staff with a policy of “at will employment” rather than a negotiated contract. Under this model, she and her principals have the right to terminate teachers’ service at the school at any time, for any reason. In fact, Steven Brill’s Class Warfare describes the case of one new teacher who was “forced out” only a few months into the school year when a young principal at Harlem Success decided she wasn’t a “good fit” for the school.
The deep irony here is that in this view of “ethical” teacher turnover, Moskowitz and her staff believe that they should have sole control over determining whether a teacher is a good fit for the school — but in the article, teachers’ stated reasons for voluntarily leaving seem thoughtful and professional: More »
When it released the 2011 Progress Reports to the public last month, the DOE made a point of noting that charter schools received more A’s than did their regular public school counterparts.
Technically that’s true, but technically is about as far as it goes. When we compare the charter middle school A’s to the public middle school A’s for example, we see that the Progress Reports offer little evidence of better student achievement. In fact, in spite of an uneven playing field that should have tilted the scores in favor of the charters, the Progress Reports actually indicate that when it comes to academics, the middle school charters that got A’s did not do that well.
Leaving aside demographics1, let’s take a look at the things that should have tilted the advantage to the favor of the middle school charter A’s. Then, let’s look at the results and some possible implications for our schools. We often hear that our public schools need to learn something from our charters. But it seems the charters may have a lesson they need to learn as well.
One note: throughout this post, charter A’s and public A’s refers to A-rated middle schools.
Uneven Playing Field: Grade levels
Though 12 of the 23 middle school charters earned A’s last year, only one had the same grade configuration as the regular publics against which it was graded. The different grade-levels should have given the charters a comparative advantage.
First, 9 of the 12 charter A’s included a fifth grade and the vast majority of regular public schools (over 95%) do not. That’s a statistical problem because for a variety of reasons, fifth graders citywide — and probably nationwide — outperform students in grade 6-8. Passing rates on the Math state tests, for example, drop 7 points between 5th and 6th grade. In ELA the drop is 5.5 points. When the performance of schools with 5th graders is compared to schools without 5th graders, the schools that serve them ought to do better on the Progress Reports, which measure exactly these things. More »
[Editor's note: Data analysis conducted by Rhonda Rosenberg.]
This week, the Daily News published yet another editorial taking an unjustly negative view of district schools in comparison to the charter sector — in this case, arguing that the relatively high proficiency levels in upper grades at schools in the Harlem Success and Harlem Village charter chains are primarily due to those schools’ extended days and school years. However, the latest available official data indicates that the schools in these two chains are also characterized by lower proportions of high-needs students than local district schools, and by extremely high rates of student attrition over time — in one case, a 68% drop in cohort size between 5th and 8th grades.
Even charter advocacy groups such as the New York City Charter School Center have warned against making simplistic assumptions about the causes of charters’ performance on state tests, noting in their own thoughtful analysis of this year’s results that
it would be inaccurate to draw absolute conclusions about school or sector superiority solely from these data points. There are important differences in demographics and enrollment practices that need to be taken into account in making policy conclusions. In order to control for these variables deeper analysis is required.
The LA Times just published a powerful essay from a union member who teaches at a Green Dot Charter School in Los Angeles. She effectively captures the importance of small class sizes in building teacher-student relationships — and in ensuring that every student gets the personalized attention they need to successfully learn:
I’m not sure what the breaking point is, but once you get much above 25 students, providing individual attention becomes difficult. To keep my English class of 31 under control, I have to rely on high-energy routines and structured group activities. In place of freewheeling discussion, I pepper the room with rapid-fire questions. To respond to their essays, I use a rubric emphasizing the four or five qualities I’m targeting for the whole class, and then write one or two short individualized sentences at the bottom of the page. With more than 150 students in my classes, I don’t have enough time to spend more than five or 10 minutes on each essay.
Do students really learn best this way? A whole chunk of my students are alienated by this highly structured environment: the artists, the rebels, the class clowns — in other words, some of my smartest kids.
Our children — even our children growing up in poverty, especially our children growing up in poverty — deserve to have not only an extraordinary teacher but a teacher who has time to read their work, to listen, to understand why they’re crying or sleeping or not doing homework.
To teach each child in my classroom, I have to know each child in my classroom. We teachers need to bring not only our extraordinariness but our flawed and real and ordinary humanity to this job, which involves a complex and ever-changing web of relationships with children who often need more than we can give them.
Now that the school year has ended, the research and writing season can begin for those of us who study charters. This summer, we’ll be working on updating our 2010 report on student demographics in charters compared to their local district schools, including our analysis of charters’ proportions of special education students and their levels of need (once that data arrives from the state and city.)
In the meantime, though, a few other bloggers have been posting some cautionary essays about the importance of acknowledging the different demographics of students in charters compared to the schools in their neighborhoods. Like charters’ academic performance, those demographics can vary widely across the sector — but given the new charter law’s requirement that all charters in New York State must recruit and retain proportions of high needs students similar to those of their local district schools, it’s worth a reminder of what the research has shown so far. More »
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is conducting an investigation into the finances of the Believe Charter School Network and the exorbitant management fees it charges its three Williamsburg based schools, Williamsburg Charter High School, Believe Northside High School and Believe Southside High School.
Edwize readers will recall that in 2006 the founder of the Believe Charter School network and its three schools, Eddie Calderon-Melendez, fired an excellent and loved teacher of English from Williamsburg Charter High School because she had circulated a copy of the salary schedule for New York City public school teachers to her colleagues, and then slandered her in an attempt to justify this deed.
At the time, Andy Rotherham of Eduwonk, Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform and Sara Meade [then at The Quick and The Ed] all agreed that the firing was wrong and deplorable, but argued that the New York charter law had remedies built into it for such misdeeds. But the authorizer of Williamsburg Charter High School, the NYC Department of Education under Joel Klein, did absolutely nothing. And the New York State Education Department then rewarded Calderon-Melendez’s behavior by chartering two new schools for him, Believe North Side and Believe South Side.
Now we are beginning to discover the consequences of charter authorizers turning a blind eye toward anti-teacher union busting.
Students from Renaissance Charter High School and four other local high schools recently returned from a journey which followed the path of the Freedom Riders of the early 1960s, a group of hundreds of college students and others who challenged segregation by traveling in integrated groups on inter-state buses through the deep South. The trip gave the fifty high school students and faculty who went a chance to meet individuals who fought social injustice as young people during the civil rights movement and to learn more about why and how people close to their age decided to take action.
Renaissance Charter social worker and UFT member Alison Rosow was one of the key organizers of the trip. She said her involvement actually began in the months after Katrina hit New Orleans, when she and a co-worker “were stunned” by the devastation and began looking for ways to help rebuild the city and address the deep-rooted racial inequalities which affected its residents. With cooperation from Renaissance Principal Stacey Gauthier, they were able to bring several dozen students down to New Orleans to help fix up homes and schools damaged by the storm and tutor students in local schools in 2007 and 2009. More »
The Atlantic just published a long opinion piece by Joel Klein, including a repetition of his long-standing argument that New York City’s charters perform miracles with “students who are demographically almost identical to those attending nearby community and charter schools,” and that anyone who claims differently is a blind supporter of the “status quo.” A closer look at Klein’s own numbers, however, tells a very different story. According to the progress reports released by his Department of Education just last year, New York City’s charter sector did not outperform similar district public schools. And the Harlem Success Academy — the school which he specifically holds up as “almost identical” to neighboring district schools — actually serves dramatically lower proportions of the city’s neediest students and of English Language Learners than other Harlem schools. More »
A thought-provoking article about a successful district middle school in the Bronx in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine has led to some interesting public responses from charter advocates in New York. As the article notes, this school’s principal and teachers combine innovative teaching and learning (such as a dual-language immersion program for its high proportion of English Language Learners) with a firm commitment to serving all students who want to come — even if, unlike at charters, those students arrive in the middle of the year or as transfers in upper grades.
One of the most negative reactions to the piece has come from former Chancellor Joel Klein, who (in an email exchange with the reporter) responded defensively to the article’s implied criticism of his own administration’s support for charters:
[A]re you saying that, by dint of applying to a charter, a family is more ambitious and motivated? That suggests that, ipso facto, families who are ambitious and motivated about their kid’s education chose charters (rather than traditional public schools like 223). I doubt there is any basis to support that inference but, if you’re right, that would be quite an argument for replacing all traditional public schools with charters, including 223, because those ‘who are ambitious and motivated’ for their children want a charter.
I would argue that Klein is being somewhat disingenuous here in his shock at the idea that charters might attract more “ambitious and motivated” parents. More »
The Journal of School Choice recently published an article in which researchers Jack Buckley and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj confirmed the UFT’s findings in 2010 that charter schools in New York City enrolled a lower proportion of limited English proficient (LEP) students than the average district school in 2007-08. Overall, they find that among the city’s charters from 2006-2008, “in the case of the LEP proportions, there is a large group of schools with very few, a handful with a larger proportion, and perhaps 1-3 schools, depending on the year, with a large share of LEP students.”
This report provides a valuable complement to our findings in Separate and Unequal, both in its examination of two additional years of data and in its use of sophisticated statistical formulas to account for possible errors in the numbers of LEP students that charters report to the state each year. As this chart from the article shows, even when the researchers controlled for that possibility, the proportion of LEP students in most charters in the city fell well below the district average (represented by the solid line on the graph).
James Merriman just posted a very angry piece on his blog, charging that the city’s Independent Budget Office’s recent analysis of Mayor Bloomberg’s 2012 budget plan was too critical of charters. In his haste to criticize the IBO as “one-sided,” however, he stretches his argument a bit too far.
He states that charters enroll “kids that DOE does not have to pay to educate,” but the IBO report notes that the increase in the number of students in charter schools has not been matched with a corresponding decrease in the number of students in district schools, leaving the district to educate the same amount of students for less money:
In theory, the diversion of funds to charters should be offset by a reduction in the number of students being served by the department itself. No estimates exist of the path that students and families in New York follow to charter schools. Are these students who would have been attending public schools or are they students who would have enrolled in private or religious schools? The answer is unknown but is likely some combination of the two. Total enrollment in the public school system has remained relatively stable in recent years as charter enrollment has grown. Regardless of how many charter school students would otherwise have attended public schools, the fact remains that — at least for now — the public schools are being asked to educate roughly the same number of students with a reduced budget available for services to schools.