CREDO: Urban charter students learn more


All students receive two hours of tutoring a day at Boston’s high-performing MATCH school.

In 41 cities, charter students learn significantly more than similar students in traditional public schools, according to a new report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO. The average gain was the equivalent of 40 more days of learning in math, and 28 more in reading.

Disadvantaged students — blacks, Latinos, English Learners, low-income and special-education students — gained the most. Whites did worse in urban charters than in traditional schools.

Performance varied, notes Sara Mead in U.S. News. Charter schools in Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, the District of Columbia, Detroit and Newark produced very strong results for students. “Charter students in Boston ended up with over 200 days more learning” in math compared to similar students at district schools.

In 26 of the cities, charter students learned more than their traditional school peers in math, and in 23 they learned more than their peers in reading. But in 11 of the urban areas, charter school students learned less than their peers in math while in 10 of them charter school students learned less in reading.

Urban charters appear to be improving over time, researchers concluded.

Students do much better in their second year at a charter, and even better in the third and fourth year, CREDO found.

“In several cities where traditional districts perform below state averages – Boston, Detroit, Indianapolis, Memphis and Nashville – charters appear to be producing strong enough learning growth to close the gap for children who remain in them for several years,” writes Mead.

‘Accountability’ proposal is anti-choice

The Charter School Accountability Agenda is a “front” for opponents of school choice and reform, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. The authors, Center for Popular Democracy and In the Public Interest, have union backing, he writes.

The agenda includes requiring an “impact analysis” on how new charters would affect district-run schools. It’s “absurd” to let existing schools keep out the competition, Biddle writes. That’s especially true in cities: Urban charters improve achievement — and raise the odds students will earn a diploma and go to college — according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes and Rand studies.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

The agenda would let district schools keep per-pupil funding when students transfer to charters. “Why should any district be entitled to receive dollars for kids they are no longer serving?” asks Biddle.

It also calls for charters to enroll as many special-needs students as traditional schools.

Charters have fewer special-ed students because they’re less likely to put a disability label on students with learning problems, Biddle writes. They focus on teaching struggling students instead of sticking them in a “special ed ghetto.”

The American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed the agenda, ran a very low-performing charter school in New York City, notes Biddle. The school met just one of 38 goals set by its authorizer and was “rated a failure mill” by the city’s education department. The school had little tolerance for special ed students.

UFT Charter meted out-of-school suspensions to 17.8 percent of special ed students in 2011-2012 and in-school suspensions to another 20 percent of them, according to data submitted by the school to the U.S. Department of Education. This is higher than the out-of-school and in-school suspension rates of  1.5 percent and 6.5 percent for kids in regular classrooms.

United Federation of Teachers, the New York City local, will close the K-8 school, but hopes to keep the high school going.

How many charters are just right?

ednext_XV_3_forum_img01How large a share of urban schools should be charters? asks an Education Next forum.

In dozens of U.S. cities, more than one in five students now attend charter schools. In New Orleans, nearly all public schools are charters.

D.C. Students Benefit from Mix of Charter and Traditional Schools, argue Scott Pearson and Skip McKoy, who serve on the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board.

Neerav Kingsland, former CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, makes the New Orleans Case for All-Charter School Districts.

Charter enrollment is up 14%

Nearly 3 million children attend charter schools in 2014-15, reports the National Alliance for Public Charter  Schools.  That’s up 14 percent from the previous year.

More than 500 new charters opened, bringing the total to about 6,700 schools nationwide. More than 200 closed due to low enrollment, financial concerns and poor academic performance.

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.”

For $25K per pupil, Camden still fails

Camden, New Jersey is a very poor city with very high school spending and very low-performing schools, reports Reason. Camden raised per-pupil spending to more than $25,000.  The public schools remain “notorious for their abysmal test scores,  the frequent occurrence of in-school violencedilapidated buildings and an on-time graduation rate of just 61 percent.”

Reason also takes a look at LEAP, one of Camden’s best charter schools: Last June, 98 percent earned a high school diploma and all graduates went on to college.

Cuomo sets union-unfriendly agenda

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has declared war on the public schools,” charges Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers’ union.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

The Democratic governor thinks too hard to fire underperforming teachers, wants to raise or eliminate the limit on charter schools and backs a tax credit for people and companies donating money to public schools and private school scholarships, reports the New York Times.

Chester Finn calls Gov. Cuomo’s education agenda “awesome (and radically union-unfriendly).”

“Its single boldest and most surprising item is the governor’s endorsement of a tax-credit scholarship program so that more young New Yorkers can afford to attend private schools,” writes Finn. That makes Cuomo “the first Democratic governor ever to propose a program of private-school choice for kids and families in his state.”

The education of Jeb Bush

In Testing Time, The New Yorker’s Alec MacGillis looks at Jeb Bush’s approach to education reform as governor of Florida.

In 1995, Bush joined the board of the Heritage Foundation, “which was generating papers and proposals to break up what it viewed as the government-run monopoly of the public-school system through free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers,” writes MacGillis. He became a fan of school choice.

Bush worked with Willard Fair of the Urban League’s Miami branch to push a state law authorizing charter schools. It passed with bipartisan support in 1996.

Bush and Fair founded Florida’s first charter school in an impoverished, largely African-American section of Miami.

Bush brought his mother in for classroom visits and dropped by unannounced to make sure that things were running smoothly. If he found wastepaper lying around, he’d leave it on the desk of the principal, Katrina Wilson-Davis. The message was clear, she recalls: “Just because kids are poor and at risk doesn’t mean that their environment shouldn’t be clean and orderly.”

When he made a second run for governor, in 1998, he chose Florida’s education commissioner as his running mate and pushed the A+ Plan to hold schools accountable for their students’ performance. He won easily.

(The plan) provided additional funding to schools with good grades and stipulated that students at schools with poor grades would receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.

. . . By the end of Bush’s second term, fourth-grade reading scores in the state had improved sharply, though eighth- and tenth-grade scores were more middling.

Bush is a strong supporter of the Common Core, which he’s called a “clear and straightforward” path to “high, lofty standards.” That’s hurting him with conservatives, writes MacGillis.

Dutch educators run their own schools

Dutch “educators decide what happens in their classrooms — not bureaucrats,” writes Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz in The Atlantic.

An international school in the Netherlands.

An international school in the Netherlands.

“More than 60 percent of the 8,000 or so schools in the Netherlands are private with a religious affiliation” — and public funding, she writes. All schools can adopt their own teaching philosophy.  The “system functions like a group of 8,000 charter schools.”

In the Netherlands, 94 percent of decisions for middle schools are made by individual school administrators and teachers, while 6 percent are made at the federal level, according to a 2008 OECD report. The country’s schools rank in the top quartile on international tests, well above the U.S., which falls in the middle.

With complete control of their schools’ budgets and no laws about class size or extracurricular programming, principals can opt to have two classes of 15 second-graders each or to have one class of 30 and hire an art teacher, for example. They decide how to evaluate their teachers. They even pick when the school day starts and ends for each grade.

The Dutch government sets standards for what a student should have learned by the end of primary and secondary school. But there are fewer targets than those set by Common Core standards, writes Butrymowicz. And each school can teach in its own way.

“The government inspects the schools once every four years by visiting the schools, meeting with students and parents, and looking at test scores and finances,” she writes. “The small number of schools—a couple hundred or so—that are deemed weak are watched more closely, but the rest are free to carry on.”