Selected readings on US charter schools
As for the one in five that didn’t? A new charter school law promises to weed them out if they don’t improve.
The sweeping law sends a tough message, said Thomas Ratliff, a member of the State Board of Education. “Low-performing charters do not need to stick around and take taxpayer dollars and not give kids what they need,” he said.
Statewide, 97 charter campuses — or 20 percent of the total — failed to meet state standards. By contrast, 9 percent of traditional public schools failed.
The new ratings are based on four criteria: student achievement on STAAR tests, academic gains over time, college readiness, and closing race- and income-based performance gaps.
It’s tricky comparing charter schools — which are publicly funded and privately run — to traditional ones. Many charter schools have special missions. Some target city kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Some cater to potential dropouts.
The thinking behind the charter school movement is that given flexibility, charters can do even better than traditional public schools.
State ratings and test scores show that’s often not the case.
“Some charters do a wonderful job. Some do a lousy job. And there are a lot that are somewhere in between,” Ratliff said.
Several charter schools that opened last year failed to meet state standards. In North Texas, that includes the campuses run by Legacy Preparatory and Prime Prep Academy.
With three schools that drew 800 students from 38 school districts, Legacy Preparatory had bold ambitions. Too bold in hindsight, said Superintendent Rebecca Good.
“We had to do a lot of things at the same time,” said Good, a former Dallas ISD administrator. Half of the teachers were beginners. The Dallas campus went most of the first year without a playground. The schools were starting a challenging dual-language program for the youngest students. With hundreds of students from across North Texas under the same roof, bullying was sometimes a problem.
Now one week into the second year, Good said things are already going more smoothly.
New charter operators like that need time, said Dan Berebitsky, a Southern Methodist University professor who studies education leadership and policy. “It’s a completely new venture,” he said.
John Tyler was among Prime Prep’s first group of students. He graduated — salutatorian, no less — from the Dallas campus in June.
He said his experience at Prime Prep, which was started by former Dallas Cowboy Deion Sanders, was much better than the “improvement required” label suggests.
“When you come to a brand-new school, it’s like starting from zero. You don’t know what the kids were taught or learned their previous years,” Tyler said.
He said his teachers were younger and less experienced than the ones at his old school, the School of Business and Management at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center, a magnet in Dallas ISD. But Tyler said he also found it easier to relate to his new teachers, so he learned a lot from them.
At Irving-based Uplift Education, 18 campuses met state standards. Seven of them also earned all three distinctions from the state.
Two Uplift schools failed to meet standards. One of them was a new middle school in Fort Worth, Uplift Mighty Prep.
Uplift educators found that students there had greater needs — social and emotional, not just academic — than they expected, Uplift CEO Yasmin Bhatia said.
“We were spending so much time on the nonacademic side, we just didn’t meet the needs of our students academically.”
Halfway through last school year, Uplift added a counselor at Mighty Prep. This school year, it’s added a dean of instruction and a dean of students, to make sure students get all of their needs met, Bhatia said.
“We’re not planning on having that same miss this year,” she said.
This year, the Legislature passed a sweeping plan that allows for more charter operators. It also beefs up oversight and lets the state close charters with three straight years of academic or financial problems.
Charter school advocates have largely supported the changes.
As for the new way the state rates campuses? Charters are generally welcoming those, too.
“I like the fact they’re looking at student growth,” Bhatia said. “I like the fact they’re also looking at how we close the achievement gap as well.”
Of course, whether it’s for charter schools or traditional ones, ratings still don’t tell the whole story.
There are things that can’t be measured, like how well parents and teachers talk to each other. Whether they trust each other. Whether teachers expect the best from each child. Whether students feel safe at school.
“Stay engaged,” Ratliff recommended. “Go ask questions.”
The state’s new ratings system has two categories: “met standard” or “improvement required.” Each district and campus will receive one of those labels.
Districts and campuses are evaluated in four areas, based primarily on how their students performed this spring on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. Here are the four indexes:
Student achievement: Examines test results of all students in all test subjects — reading, math, writing, science and social studies. The score is based on the overall percentages of students passing each exam. Target score for earning “met standard” is 50.
Student progress: Focuses on student growth from the previous year — as measured by the STAAR — for each ethnic student group, students with disabilities and English language learners. The score is based on results in reading, math and writing, looking at whether students met or exceeded growth expectations. Target scores vary from 17 for high schools to 30 for elementary schools.
Closing performance gaps: Is based on advanced academic achievement of economically disadvantaged students and the two lowest performing ethnic student groups, generally blacks and Hispanics. The score is based on the percentage of those students reaching a higher level of performance — Level II — on each STAAR test. Target score is 55.
Postsecondary readiness: Applies only to high schools this year and is based on the four- or five-year graduation rates. Also considered is the percentage of graduates who have pursued either the recommended high school plan or distinguished achievement plan — instead of the minimum plan — in their coursework. Target score is 75.
Schools that “met standard” can be recognized with three “distinction” designations:
Top 25 percent student progress: Each school is compared with a group of 40 similar campuses on student progress in reading, math and writing — as measured by the STAAR — from the previous year. Schools in the top quartile of each group earn this distinction.
Academic achievement in reading: Schools are compared in reading and English in groups of 40 similar campuses, using several indicators to determine which rank in the top quartile. Elementary and middle schools that rank in the top quartile in at least 50 percent of the measures earn the reading distinction. High schools must be in the top quartile in 33 percent of the measures. Among the indicators are attendance rates, advanced level performance on STAAR reading and writing tests, ACT scores and SAT scores.
Academic achievement in math: The calculation for math is the same as that for academic achievement in reading.
SOURCE: Texas Education Agency
Source: Dallas News – by Holly K. Hacker