Archive for the ‘Charter Schools’ Category
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.”
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
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 »
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 »
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 »
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.