Should charters have to ‘backfill’ seats?

Charter schools should be required to “back-fill” their “empty seats,” argues a Wall Street Journal op-ed. It’s aimed at New York City’s Success Academy network, which posts very high scores, but doesn’t replace students who leave. 

Backfill mandates are a backhanded way to kill school autonomy, responds Mike Petrilli on Education Gadfly.

Some charters let new students start only at a designated entry point, such as kindergarten, sixth grade or ninth grade. As the unengaged leave, the remaining students are almost certainly more motivated and probably higher performing.

It’s unfair to compare a school with only the motivated to a school where students are coming and going, Petrilli concedes. So, stop comparing.

. . .  there are strong instructional arguments for not backfilling. Great schools spend a lot of time building strong cultures—the almost-invisible expectations, norms, and habits that come to permeate the environment, such as the notion that it’s cool to be smart and it’s not OK to disrupt learning. Culture-building is a whole lot harder to do if a school is inducting a new group of students every year in every grade.

Furthermore, schools that help their charges make rapid gains in their early years will be forced to spend a lot of time remediating new students who enter midstream. That’s why so many solid charters and networks that launch as middle or high schools eventually reach down to start serving students at age four, five, or six. It’s hard to remediate a kid who has already gone through half a dozen years of learning nothing in a dire school.

. . . When we force charters to backfill, or adopt uniform discipline policies, or mimic district schools’ approach to special education, we turn them into the very things they were intended to replace.

Districts could protect some of their schools, such as magnets, from “backfill”churn, Petrilli suggests.

No evidence of ‘push-out’ at NYC charters

Attrition is lower at elementary charter schools in New York City than at neighboring schools, concludes a new analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

About 64 percent of students attending charter schools in kindergarten in school year 2008-2009 remained in the same school four years later, compared with 56 percent of students attending nearby traditional public schools.

In addition, special-needs students are more likely to remain at a charter than a traditional school, the IBO reported. That’s a change from last year’s report, which looked only at students in full-time special ed classes, notes the New York Times. Most special-needs students are mainstreamed.

High-needs students are segregated in low-performing district schools in the city, charges Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter group.  Ninety-three district schools in New York City “serve less than 1% of either English Language Learner or Special Needs students.”

Suspension doesn’t explain charter scores

High suspension rates don’t explain high test scores at no-excuses charter schools, write Robin Lake and Richard Whitmire in USA Today.  She directs the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell, while he’s the author of On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope.

What counts is not whether students are suspended, but whether they transfer to another school, Lake and Whitmire argue.

Take Boston’s high-performing Brooke Charter Schools as an example. The suspension rate there is 20%. Sounds high, but the attrition rate is only 5.5%.

“We use suspension to help draw clear lines about the responsibilities all members of our school communities have to each other,” says Brooke founder Jon Clark.

In high-poverty Ward 8 of Washington, D.C., about 90% of Achievement Prep students re-enroll each year — an astonishing number for a high-transient neighborhood. Their academic record is just as striking, and there’s no evidence the school pushes out “bad” students.

New York’s Success Academies draw the most complaints, in part because their low-income and minority students outperform many middle-class schools in the city. Something must be amiss, right? And yet the attrition rate there for the past few years is about 10%, far lower than many schools in the same neighborhoods.

New Orleans charters with high expulsion rates are modifying their discipline policies to retain more students, they write.

Attrition doesn’t explain KIPP’s success

KIPP students gain an additional eight to 11 months of learning in reading and math over three years, compared to students in nearby middle schools,say Mathematica researchersStudent attrition doesn’t explain KIPP’s success, they write in Education Next.

KIPP middle schools and the district-run schools nearby have similar attrition patterns: Lower achievers are more likely at both kinds of schools.

What’s different is that KIPP schools admit fewer transfers in seventh and eighth grade and late entrants tend to be higher achieving than those who started in fifth grade.

However, most KIPP gains occur in the first year, before anyone’s left or transferred,  say the Mathematica analysts.

ednext_XIV_4_gill_fig03-small

Compared to feeder elementary schools, KIPP students are more likely to be black or Latino and low-income. They are slightly less likely to be English Learners or in special education. Prior achievement is the same.

However, it’s hard to measure “parent characteristics, prior motivation, or student behavior,” the researchers write. “For example, KIPP students might benefit from attending school with peers who are especially motivated to accept KIPP’s academic and behavioral demands.”

Teachers are grayer — and greener

Overall, the teaching force is becoming “larger, older, younger and less experienced, more female, more racially diverse and more consistent in academic ability,” according to a Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) trends report. (There are peaks for younger and older teachers and fewer teachers in the middle.)

Thirty percent of teachers who entered the profession in 1997 had quit by 2003. Teachers have similar attrition to police offers, but double the rate of engineers and pharmacists, writes Leslie Kan, a Bellwether analyst.


Employee Turnover By Occupation
turnoverrates_ednext_img1
Teachers and police officers are among the few professions that still participate in a pension system, writes Kan. “Pension systems are best suited for employees who stay an entire career, but they generally benefit only a small percentage of teachers because of high turnover in the profession.”

 

More teachers are novices

More students are being taught by inexperienced, not-yet-effective teachers, warns a Carnegie report, Beginners in the Classroom

Novices are leading so many classrooms not only because of greater demand for teachers, but because so many teachers in existing jobs are leaving before they become accomplished educators. Although the recent recession slowed the exodus somewhat, teacher turnover rates are exceptionally high. In many urban districts, more than half of teachers leave within five years. And teachers abandon charter schools at especially high rates, a significant problem given the growing presence of charters in many metropolitan areas.

Pay isn’t the primary reason teachers quit, concludes the report. “Teachers leave because of a lack of administrative support — poor professional development, insufficient emotional backing, and scant feedback on performance.”

In Fast Start, The New Teachers Project describes how it changed its five-week teacher training program to teach fewer skills more intensely.

Fast Start focuses on four critical skills most closely linked to first-year success: delivering lessons clearly, maintaining high academic and behavioral standards, and maximizing instructional time.

. . . teachers spend 26 hours in intensive, hands-on practice.

Every Fast Start participant benefits from 32 hours of one-on-one and group coaching to help them constantly fine-tune their use of essential instructional techniques.

After two years, “we’ve found that teachers who performed better during Fast Start training earned higher ratings from their principals and did better on their district’s performance evaluation system.”

Attrition is lower at NYC charters

Attrition is relatively low at New York City’s charter elementary schools, concludes Staying or Going, a report by the city’s Independent Budget Office. After three years, 70 percent of charter students remained at the same school compared to 61 percent of students at nearby district schools.

The city’s charter students are somewhat poorer than students in nearby district schools the study found. They’re much more likely to be black (61.1 percent vs. 33.3 percent) and less likely to be Latino (26.7 percent vs. 47.8 percent), white or Asian-American.

However, charters lose more special education students than district schools, notes the New York Times. Only 1 percent of charter kindergarteners are in special education compared to 7 percent in nearby schools. Eighty percent of special-ed charter kindergarteners have transferred after three years, compared to 50 percent in nearby schools.

Disability diagnoses are rare in kindergarten. By third grade, 13 percent of charter students — and 19 percent of district students — have received a special needs diagnosis.

Schools of choice may not be designed to serve every kind of student, writes Matt Di Carlo on Shanker Blog. If accountability measures can be adapted to control for high-need students, “you would expect to see the emergence of more and more schools that were tailored to meet the specific needs of students with low test scores and/or behavioral issues.”

Study: Top teachers perform well after transfer

Top elementary teachers who transferred to low-performing schools under a bonus program boosted their students’ learning significantly,” reports Ed Week’s Stephen Sawchuk.  Middle school teachers who transferred did not produce gains, according to a Mathematica study of the federally financed Talent Transfer Initiative.

Most highly effective teachers turned down the transfers, notes Sawchuck.

 The top 20 percent of teachers in each district were identified using each district’s own “value added” measure.  They were offered a $20,000 bonus to switch, paid out over a two-year period. (Effective teachers already in those schools got $10,000).

Of 1,500 eligible teachers, only 81 decided to transfer to qualify for bonuses.

Tranferring teachers were more likely than colleagues to stay at their new schools during the two years when bonuses were paid. After that, they left at the same rate as other teachers.

Students in high-poverty, low-performing schools are much less likely to be taught by experienced and highly effective teachers, say advocates. But it’s not clear whether a teacher who’s effective with easy-to-teach students will be effective with high-risk students.

A different study last year also found teacher effectiveness is transferable, writes Sawchuk.

Study: KIPP produces big gains

KIPP middle schoolers learn significantly more than comparison students, concludes a report  by Mathematica Policy Research on 43 schools in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Three years after enrollment, the average KIPP student gained an extra 11 months in math, moving from the 44th to the 58th percentile, and eight months in reading, moving from the 46th to the 55th percentile. Science gains equalled an extra 14 months and social studies an extra 11 months.

In 13 schools, students in the control group had applied to KIPP, but lost the charter lottery. If there was no lottery, the study used “matched” students of similar achievement and demographics in nearby schools.

For KIPP students in the lottery sample, researchers administered the TerraNova test—a nationally norm-referenced test—which students had not prepared for, and which carried no consequences for students or schools. The impacts shown in the TerraNova test were consistent with those shown in state tests.

KIPP students resembles other students in their neighborhoods, but with lower reading and math achievement than their elementary school classmates, the study found. Ninety-six percent are black or Hispanic and 83 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. However, KIPP entrants are less likely to have received special education services or to have limited English proficiency.  (Since many more KIPP students are black, it makes sense that fewer speak English as a second language.)

Critics charge KIPP “counsels out” low achievers to inflate scores, notes Education Week. To account for attrition, the study included all students who started KIPP, even if they left for another school.

For example, a student could leave KIPP for another school in 6th grade, but their performance at the new school is counted towards the academic achievement of KIPP students overall regardless. The report also found that KIPP schools have similar attrition rates as traditional district schools (37 percent over three years for both sets of students).

KIPP students spend much more time in school than traditional public school students: nine hours per day, for 192 days each year, in KIPP, compared to 6.6 hours per day, for 180 days. In addition, KIPP students spend an extra 35 to 53 minutes on homework each night.

However, a longer school day didn’t raise test scores, possibly because the extra time was spent on non-academic activities, researchers found. KIPP schools that spent more time on core academic subjects and enforced a comprehensive discipline policy had the strongest results.

In schools where school-wide behavior standards and discipline policies are consistently communicated and enforced, the school rewards students for positive behavior, and the school punishes students who violate the rules, reading and math scores went up, researchers found.

While KIPP students are more satisfied with their school, the study did not find an increase in “attitudes associated with success,” such as persistence and self-control. Students were more likely to admit to losing their temper, arguing with or lying to their parents, or giving their teachers a hard time. Researchers weren’t sure if they were more ornery or more honest about it. Students may have raised their standards about acceptable behavior, said Mathematica researcher Brian Gill.

In comparing higher-performing to lower-performing KIPP schools, researchers found “class size, teacher experience and professional development opportunities” were not associated with higher scores, adds Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

The latest CREDO study of charter school effectiveness found New York City charter students gain an extra five months in math — seven months in Harlem — and one month in reading, compared to similar students in traditional public schools. Charters enroll many more blacks. One in three Harlem kindergartners attends a charter school.

The high cost of college dropouts

Nineteen percent of higher education spending goes for students who fail to earn a certificate or degree, according to a new report.