Selected readings on US charter schools
Graduate students at Vanderbilt University are wading into one of Metro schools’ mostly politically charged questions: Do Nashville’s charter schools really see more students leave prior to end-of-year testing than other public schools?
And if they do, why is that?
Comparing student attrition between Metro’s charters, magnet and zoned schools will be the most watched area that a trio of Vanderbilt University students is examining as part of an ongoing study and partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools.
That same topic tightened tension between charter advocates and the district in the spring when Metro school officials — through a string of media reports — unloaded data suggesting that the eight Metro schools with the highest attrition rates are all charters.
Many took it as a blatant attempt to imply that charter schools are weeding out low-performing students to boost state-mandated test scores. Charter backers, meanwhile, disputed the formula Metro officials had used to calculate attrition in the first place.
“There was somewhat of a public argument about how to measure these things and we thought it would be good to get a look that was from outside of our district under the purview of a nationally known researcher that we didn’t produce,” said Tina Stenson, Metro’s coordinator for research and data analysis.
The district has not contracted Vanderbilt to produce the study, which students began working on in September and could complete by April. Instead, it falls under the Ed.D. capstone program in Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development and is akin to a group-led dissertation with a selected client or partner — in this case, MNPS. The district requested the examination, which is to explore all district “choice schools,” not just publicly financed, privately led charters.
Its scope includes:
• Arriving at an agreed-upon formula for determining rates of attrition and mobility. This includes exploring how other districts measure it.
• Mapping patterns at the district’s 12 schools with the highest student mobility.
• Identifying reasons for choosing certain types of “choice schools” and explanations for leaving via interviews and surveys with parents, administators and possibily students.
• Evaluating the impact on achievement and discipline on the students that leave schools of choice.
• Analyzing the impact on organization performance and efficiency.
“We have no dog in this fight,” said Claire Smrekar, Vanderbilt Peabody College’s associate professor of public policy and education, who is overseeing the study. “We’ve assumed a completely neutral stance.”
Smrekar said the plan is to also look at data compiled by the Tennessee Charter School Center, the charter advocacy group that has disagreed with the way the district calculates student attrition.
Thus, a key task for the Vanderbilt researchers is to find a fair way to count.
The district’s attrition formula is the net reduction in enrollment over the course of a school year compared to the initial enrollment. As a result, traditional public schools had lower attrition levels in 2012-13 because they tend to accumulate students mid-year, offsetting those who left. The charter center’s formula, though, looks purely at the number of students who exited during a year — comparing that figure against the number of students who started in the fall or entered mid-year. Only three of its top 10 schools in attrition are charters.
“Having a neutral third party review data from all MNPS schools is a good step toward resolving this issue,” said Metro school board member Amy Frogge, who has suggested there’s higher attrition at charters.
Greg Thompson, CEO of the charter schools center, agreed that it’s a good move as long as it is executed district-wide. “I think everybody wants those numbers to get better and kind of better understand why and how parents make different choices.”
The study follows a similar Vanderbilt capstone study in the spring on student mobility that looked at reasons students and parents leave the district for private schools and systems in surrounding counties.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt’s Peabody College in January released a study that asked whether there is empirical evidence consistent with the claim that charter schools “push out” the lowest-performing students. By looking at an unidentified urban school district — not Nashville’s — it found that there wasn’t.
The possibility, though, that there might be more student movement from charters isn’t a new one. Many educators have noted that because parents make a decision to enroll in a charter school, they are likely to exercise their choice to opt out as well.
“There’s consumer choice here, so some of this is to be expected,” Smrekar said.
Source: The Tennessean – by Joey Garrison