Selected readings on US charter schools
CLEVELAND, Ohio — A stack of signs advertising the Entrepeneurship Preparatory School (E-Prep) as “Rated Excellent!” sits in the school’s office. Once destined to be posted on lawns to attract potential students, they’re now destined for the trash.
The signs aren’t accurate anymore, since E-Prep — like every other school in Ohio — has no state rating at all. The state is skipping overall ratings for districts and individual schools until 2015, while it phases in new standards for students and a new report card style. That change will pose a challenge for schools and districts seeking to advertise their performance to voters — or, in the case of high-performing charter schools like E-Prep, to families of their student customers.
Now, instead of one rating, the report cards have up to nine grades, all for different measures, that aren’t as handy for lawn signs or advertisements.
“We’ll have to figure out how to translate that to the public,” said E-Prep founder John Zitzner, who wasn’t sure yet what strategy he and the other schools in the Breakthrough charter school network would take.
It’s also a challenge for Cleveland’s new Transformation Alliance, a panel created last year by Mayor Frank Jackson to help Cleveland families pick the best schools for their children. The Alliance has to help parents decide between schools in the Cleveland school district and the nearly 70 charter schools – public schools that are privately-run – in Cuyahoga County, most of them in Cleveland.
The Alliance is made up of city, business, community and school leaders, from both the district and charter schools. With each charter school offering itself as an alternative to the traditional school system, the state ratings offered a simple, easy-to-communicate assessment of school performance.
For its first public information campaign this summer, the Transformation Alliance relied on state ratings for the flyers it printed telling parents about quality school choices in their neighborhood. The flyers used the now-gone state ratings, listing schools rated Effective – the equivalent of a B – or above. The Alliance’s website, RightSchoolCleveland.org, also lists schools by the overall ratings that are no longer calculated.
“We just built that web page with the old report card data,” said Megan O’Bryan, the Alliance’s executive director. “Now we’ll have to update it.”
The Alliance is already planning to find a more-detailed way of informing parents about school choices. Members of the Alliance have met with different vendors and websites, including GreatSchools.org, as they research different approaches of explaining the pluses and minuses of schools.
O’Bryan said the Alliance will work this fall to decide what information it needs to provide parents to make choices, how to find and obtain the data, and how best to present it.
Members may decide the multiple grades in state report cards offer better information for parents than the old way, she said. And some Alliance members, like Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke, had already expressed concern that the old state ratings were too limited to judge schools against each other.
The Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools, whose president William Sims sits on Cleveland’s Transformation Alliance, is also figuring out which report card measures can best help families pick quality schools. Sims could not be reached, but Marianne Lombardo, that group’s vice president of research and accountability, said using Performance Index and overall value-added grades make the most sense.
Performance Index is a composite of test scores that show how well students did on the tests, showing their overall knowledge. The state already requires schools and districts to be ranked by this measure. Value-added measures how much academic progress, or growth, students make in a year.
But Lombardo said it will be harder to explain those grades to families than an overall rating.
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” she said. “I don’t have an easy answer right now.”
Though her group is an advocate for charter schools and school choice, Lombardo said she hopes some schools don’t take a shortcut and take a single A they might receive on their report card and advertise themselves as an A school, regardless of their other grades.
“They need to be able to tell about their successes for sure,” she said. “They should tout that they have an A in one area, but not imply that it’s an overall A.”
The Constellation charter school network, with 23 schools in Cleveland, Parma, Lorain, Elyria and Mansfield, is not participating the the Transformation Alliance. But it still has an interest in promoting its schools above other charters with poor results.
Constellation President Richard Lukich said he’s not as concerned about the report card changes as others. And he said he believes parents of Constellation students “will continue to be our best recruiters.”
“In my opinion, many urban parents are first concerned with safety and security, and choose schools they believe will protect their children and schools that are within close proximity to their homes,” Lukich said. “No parent wants his/her child traveling a great distance on a bus.”
Source: Cleveland.com – by Patrick O’Donnell, The Plain Dealer