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Archive for the ‘Charter Schools’ Category

Democracy Prep and the “Same Kids” Myth

In general, charter advocates have become somewhat more responsible about acknowledging the impact of demographic differences in charter and district school enrollments on charters’ academic performance. The recent release of the New York City Charter School Center’s “State of the Sector” report is one example, and we had hoped that the existence of its database (which offers straightforward comparisons between enrollments at each New York City charter school compared to its Community School District) would help further efforts towards a more fully informed discussion of the role of charters in school reform.

Unfortunately, last week’s publication of a guest essay by American Enterprise Institute researcher Daniel Lautzenheiser in Rick Hess’ EdWeek column marks a return to the simplistic rhetoric and unsubstantiated assertions which Hess himself has warned are becoming too common among self-identified “reformers.” In “A Tale of Two Schools,” Lautzenheiser makes the claim that Democracy Prep’s high test scores come despite its enrollment of “the same kinds of students” as its academically struggling co-located school, the Academy of Collaborative Education (ACE). He offers no data to back up this assertion, other than the fact that the two schools share a building in Harlem. However, if he had taken a moment to check the Charter School Center’s database, he would have found that in 2010-11, Democracy Prep served fewer students who were eligible for free lunch, fewer students who required special education services, and fewer students who were English Language Learners than the average district school in its neighborhood.

Taking a closer look at Democracy Prep’s enrollment in comparison to ACE specifically (as we did in 2010) shows that other than the first year ACE opened, these patterns have been true throughout both schools’ existence. In addition, though Democracy Prep no longer publicly reports the type of services its Special Education students receive, evidence from 2008-09 showed that only 18% of its students with IEPs were mandated to be in self-contained classes, compared with 50% of Special Education students at ACE.

School Year
% Free Lunch
% Limited
% Special Ed
Academy of Collaborative Education 2008
Academy of Collaborative Education 2009
Academy of Collaborative Education 2010
Academy of Collaborative Education 2011
Democracy Preparatory Charter School 2008
Democracy Preparatory Charter School 2009
no public data
Democracy Preparatory Charter School 2010
Democracy Preparatory Charter School 2011

Sources: NY State Report Cards; NY State Charter SPED Invoices; NYC CSC Database

Researchers like Lautzenheiser who seek to hold up Democracy Prep as a model for district schools to follow should stop making the argument that such schools are succeeding with “the same students” without checking the data first to see if their claims are true. Criticizing the academic performance of the ACE school community while failing to recognize the greater challenges that community faces is not helpful in moving forward in finding ways to improve the educational experience for all the city’s children.

Disturbing Background for Founder of New “Charter Parents PAC”

Thomas Lopez-Pierre

Thomas Lopez-Pierre

The founder of the latest group to try to cash in on the big money flowing from Wall Street to New York City’s charter schools has a disturbing history. Potential donors and charter parents who received Thomas Lopez-Pierre’s recent email seeking $250,000 in donations to support his new “Harlem Charter School Parents PAC” (of which he will serve as treasurer and spokesman) should take a moment to Google his name before signing on. When they do, they’ll discover that Lopez-Pierre is also the creator of the Harlem Club, which became infamous a few years back for its founder’s misogynistic and classist descriptions of that organization’s mission and for his own beliefs about women’s place in the home and society:

Thomas Lopez-Pierre was looking for just the right men for the Harlem Club, a private social club for African-Americans and Latinos that he was forming in Manhattan.

For $5,000, mid-career professional men could become charter members; $2,500 would make them general members. But this club did not want just any moneyed men. Rap stars, Hollywood glitterati and professional athletes — what Mr. Lopez-Pierre labels the ”ghetto-fabulous crowd” — would not be welcome.

Women could join the Harlem Club, too. But only as associate members. And they had to be 35 or younger, unmarried, childless, college educated and willing to submit a head-to-toe photograph, to prevent unattractive women from making the cut … More »

Charters and Integration in the NYC Context

It’s always good to see issues of school segregation and integration back on the table as part of the education reform discussion; most recently, the discussion of this important reform goal was triggered in New York by Eva Moskowitz’s latest demand of the state that her chain of schools should be exempted from following the state charter law which requires that all charters serve high-needs students in proportions comparable to those of local schools. However, Moskowitz’s claim that her purpose in seeking this right to play by different rules than other charters is simply to expand school integration is deeply disingenuous. Paradoxically, she seemingly simultaneously wants to argue that she should be allowed to expand because her schools are successfully serving the same demographics of students as New York City’s district schools and to argue that her schools are better because, unlike many of the local district schools, they’re economically integrated. Conveniently, her new dedication to integration seems to have emerged just after the new law requiring greater demographic parity was passed.

Similarly, Moskowitz’s claims to the state that requirements that her chain’s schools recruit and retain high needs students provide “perverse incentives” to over-identify those students misses a key point. The three year limit she complains about is designed to counteract another “perverse incentive” built into the law — the temptation to target charter recruitment so that the lowest-need students from within the three target areas are disproportionately enrolled in lieu of students with greater needs, increasing the chances that charters will both be able to hit their enrollment targets and achieve higher test scores than schools which enroll the higher needs students within these groups (who are less likely to test out of the category). While over-identification of these students is an important issue, the solution is not to remove the part of the proposed policy which ensures that charters will be held accountable for serving students with the greatest needs. In Moskowitz’s case, her recent decision to drop preferences for “at risk students” from her lottery process indicates that these protections are especially important in ensuring accountability among the schools in her network. More »

Debunking the Harlem Village Academy ‘Miracle’

Harlem Village Academy is currently enjoying some media attention thanks to founder Deborah Kenny’s new book, Born to Rise. At the Teach For Us blog, Gary Rubinstein looks at the school’s most recent numbers and finds high student attrition (as we did two years ago) and alarming staff turnover.

When a school is truly great, teachers want to keep teaching there year after year.  So it should be telling that in this school over the past three years the amount of staff turnover was 2007-2008 53%, for 2008-2009, 38%, and for 2009-2010, a whopping 61%.  By comparison, the teacher attrition for the entire district in 2009-2010 was just 19%.

He also posts a letter from an outspoken former HVA teacher who writes, “No school with a 60% teacher turnover rate should be praised in the press as the model for other schools to follow.”

Student Attrition at Harlem Success Academy

A post this week at Insideschools.org raised some familiar questions about student attrition and test scores at Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy I.

Many uptown Manhattan parents hope that winning the lottery for a seat at Harlem Success Academy I will put their child on the path to academic achievement. But just because a child gets into Harlem Success does not mean he or she will complete 5th grade there. The school — part of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy network — has a high attrition rate, leading critics to charge that the school may push out low achieving or difficult students.

Harlem Success denies that’s the case, and says the attrition can be explained by children moving away–or even skipping a grade. Without better data from the state, it’s impossible to say who is right. But one thing is certain: Harlem Success loses a lot of kids between kindergarten and 5th grade.

In an email to Insideschools, our own Leo Casey wrote, “It may be significant that the bulk of the attrition at Harlem Success Academy 1 seems to have come in the tested grades.”

New Charter Report Improves Transparency but Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

The release of a new “State of the Sector” report by the New York City Charter School Center will hopefully mark a turning point in efforts to have a more substantive conversation about charter schools’ demographics and performance in our city. As local media have noted, the report is one of the first from within the charter sector itself to acknowledge some troubling data on charter schools that we and other analysts have been discussing for several years.

Specifically, the report found that, compared to the average school in their Community School District in 2010:

  • 68% of charters served a lower proportion of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch
  • 72% of charters served a lower proportion of students with IEPs
  • 96% of charters served a lower proportion of English Language Learners

The report also noted that the charter sector was experiencing significantly higher turnover of principals, teachers, and students than the district:

  • 26-33% of charter teachers left each year between 2007 and 2011, compared to 13-16% at district schools
  • 18.7% of charter principals left each year between 2005-06 and 2010-11, compared to 3.6% at district schools
  • Charter middle school enrollments shrunk by 5.9% from 2010 to 2011, compared to an increase of 3.2% at district middle schools

More »

Shutting Down Public Voice on Charters

As originally envisioned, charter schools were supposed to be a way of empowering communities to have a stronger voice in decision-making at their local schools — with community leaders, parents, and teachers on the boards and decisions being made in ways that gave stakeholders direct access rather than layers of bureaucracy.

In New York, however, the expansion and oversight of the state’s charter sector seems to be moving in the opposite direction. As evidence, I encourage a review of yesterday’s decision by one of the state’s charter authorizers to allow the Success Charter Network to merge at least five of its schools (and soon eleven, and likely eventually all forty of their schools) under a single board — essentially creating a new school district run by non-profit corporate leadership rather than public officials or local leaders.

If you haven’t heard much news about this plan, it’s not surprising — while the boards of the network’s schools approved the mergers in February, the DOE didn’t have a hearing to get local input on the proposal until this past Friday (with two days notice) — and didn’t release any of the documents explaining what the mergers would look like. More »

“Shorting” New York City’s Schools?

Hedge fund manager David Einhorn was in the news this week after he and his firm were hit with an $11.2 million fine for insider trading. Based on an investigation by authorities in the UK, Einhorn was cited for selling millions of shares of a troubled business just minutes after an executive there quietly revealed to him that the company was in financial trouble:

“Einhorn is an experienced professional with a high profile in the industry,” said Tracey McDermott, the FSA’s acting enforcement chief. “We expect someone in his position to be able to identify inside information when he receives it and to act appropriately. His failure to do so is a serious breach.”

If the name sounds familiar to many New Yorkers, it may be because of his recent flirtation with becoming the white knight of the beleaguered Mets franchise; others may remember him for his fame as the financial analyst whose decision to bet on the collapse of Lehman Brothers made him a huge profit in 2008.

For those who follow education, however, Einhorn now joins the ranks of fellow hedge funders who have been implicated both in questionably ethical business decisions and in the New York City charter school sector. More »

Good News for Opportunity Charter School

Most of the coverage about the Department of Education’s role as a charter authorizer in recent weeks has focused on the management scandals at the Believe Network and the decision to close Peninsula Prep after three years of C’s (although interestingly enough, the role of for-profit charter manager Victory Schools has mostly been left out of the Peninsula Prep story, despite quotes from current Victory executive and past DOE Charter Office head Michael Duffy in the Times coverage of the school’s closing).

Equally important, however, was the DOE’s decision to grant a two-year renewal to the third school it had placed on the closure list this year — Opportunity Charter School, a charter founded to serve students with special education needs. The DOE’s threat to close Opportunity had inspired a passionate response from the school’s community, including powerful presentations of evidence from the district’s own progress reports showing its success in helping students with intense special education needs achieve academically and graduate from high school at rates well above other schools in the city. More »

“Believe” the Teachers

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 »

A Closer Look at Charter Practices

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 »

Financial Killings — And Educational Corpses

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.

A Quick Overview of Recent Research on Charters

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.

More »

Why We Can’t Fire Our Way to Urban School Reform

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 »

Sharing Best Practices — A Lesson for the Charters

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 »