Creating top charter schools

The Founders, Richard Whitmire’s new book on how the nation’s best charter schools were created, is being published online by The 74.

“This is the history of high-performing public charter schools — the best of the best, the top 20 percent, the game-changers,” he writes. Charters started 25 years ago in Minnesota, but “this story begins years later in California, spreads east through the unlikely collaboration of top school leaders, and stands apart for its success in guiding poor and minority children from kindergarten all the way through college graduation.”

The book is “a welcome antidote to the pernicious notion that high-performing schools for disadvantaged students are isolated flukes, dependent on a charismatic educator or the cherry-picking of bright students, writes Arne Duncan in The Atlantic. He’s never met a charter leader who claimed to be running a “miracle school,” adds Duncan.

Whitmire analyzes what’s holding back growth of the best charter schools in Education Next.

“The first wave of charter pioneers is nearly all white with excellent college credentials,” writes Whitmire. Yet their schools, often staffed largely by white teachers, target low-income “black and brown students.”

This is a race reality that’s rapidly shifting as charters diversify, but will it shift fast enough to avoid the pushback that’s already bubbling up around the race issue?

High-performing schools need to “attract talented teachers, and in a lot of cities, that just isn’t going to happen,” Whitmire adds. “Plus, the powerful anti-charter movement led by unions and superintendents is fully capable of blocking charters in some cities.”

Finally, it’s critical to shut down low-performing charters, he writes.  Nobody predicted how difficult it would be to close bad charters. “As it turns out, charter parents cling to their failing schools just as closely as parents of traditional failing schools.”

LA schools compete for students

Los Angeles Unified schools are competing for students with charters, reports Anna M. Phillips in the LA Times.

In heavily Hispanic Pacoima, a 90-year-old district elementary school, now known as Haddon Avenue STEAM Academy, is advertising on a billboard and a LA Unified delivery truck.

“With a declining enrollment, you have no choice,” says Principal Richard Ramos, who previously worked at a charter school.

Haddon’s enrollment dipped from 890 K-5 students five years ago to 785 last year, reports Phillips. “It didn’t matter that the principal had expanded the school’s mariachi classes or brought in a decorated speech-and-debate coach if none of the neighborhood’s parents knew about it.”

With the help of $9,000 for a billboard (it also advertises Arleta High) and the truck ad, Haddon is starting the year with 848 students, including 39 transfers from charter schools.

Scores are low at Haddon: Only 18 percent of students are proficient in English, 11 percent in math, according to Great Schools. At nearby Montague Charter Academy and Pacoima Charter Elementary, 22 percent are proficient in English and 20 percent in math. Is that significant? Some parents will think so. Others will prefer mariachi and debate.

The KIPP LA charter network spent $18,000 last year to advertise openings in its 13 charter schools in the area, spokesman Steve Mancini said. “We welcome the competition” from the district.“It’s healthy; it keeps you on your toes. One of the best accountability measures is knowing you have to fill your school every year with students.”

At Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter school network in L.A., the recruiting budget for its 28 schools is $13,000 to $15,000, spokeswoman Catherine Suitor said.

It’s good to see district schools figuring out how to appeal to parents, rather than trying to suppress competition, writes Reason‘s Scott Shackford.

John Oliver mocked the idea that competition might motivate schools to improve.

Focusing on mismanaged schools, Oliver’s rant was “clever, glib and uninformed,” responds Nick Gillespie.

He cited education researcher Jay Greene’s analysis of randomized studies comparing lottery winners and losers (kids with equally motivated parents): Urban students “do significantly better in school if they attend a charter school than if they attend a traditional public school,” writes Greene.

A British comedian’s ignorance isn’t worth all the fuss, writes Robert Pondiscio.

51% in NYC prefer charters

Only one in four New Yorkers said they were satisfied with their child’s education, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Fifty-one percent said they’d prefer a charter school for their own child: In the Bronx, two-thirds said they’d choose a charter school.

Charter students are outpacing district students in the city, reports the Wall Street Journal.

According to new state testing data, citywide student proficiency increased this year on average by 7.6 percentage points in English and 1.2 percentage points in math to 38% and 36.4%, respectively.

. . . proficiency at charter schools this year jumped 13.7 percentage points in English and 4.5 percentage points in math to 43% and 47%, respectively. In other words, charter students have improved by two to four times as much as the citywide average.

Black and Hispanic charter students — who make up nearly 90 percent of enrollment —  “scored 73% higher than their counterparts at district-run schools,” according to an analysis by Families for Excellent Schools.

Black Lives group takes on schools

The Movement for Black Lives has published a policy platform that includes an education plan stressing community control of schools, writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

“The coalition’s proposals are wide-ranging and, depending on who is talking, either aspirational or entirely unrealistic,” writes DeRuy.

The plan calls for a constitutional amendment to guarantee “fully funded” education, no new charter schools, no police in schools and closure of juvenile detention centers.

It attacks the “privatization” of education by wealthy philanthropists “and criticizes charter-school networks for decimating black communities and robbing traditional neighborhood schools of resources,” writes DeRuy.

When Black Kids Don’t Matter is RiShawn Biddle’s analysis of “why the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Movement for Black Lives have issued proclamations opposing the expansion of school choice and Parent Power for the very black families for which they proclaim to care.”

The declaration itself was written not by the Black Lives Matter activists within the coalition, but largely by two of NEA’s and AFT’s prime vassals.

One of the coauthors, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, has long been a front for the Big Two (teachers’ unions). . . . Another coauthor, Philadelphia Student Union, has been one of AFT’s lead groups in its effort to oppose systemic reform and school choice in the City of Brotherly Love . . .

After the NAACP voted for a charter moratorium, black leaders defended urban charters’ effectiveness, reports Jason Russell in the Washington Examiner.

Many charters “offer a high-quality education to low-income and working-class black children,” said Jacqueline Cooper, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

“In communities of color throughout our country, public charter schools are providing pathways to college and careers that previously were not available,” said Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement.

According to a BAEO report released in January, “black students in public charter schools learn the equivalent of 36 extra school days per year in math and 26 extra school days in reading,” reports Russell. “The gains are even higher for black students living in poverty.”

NAACP vs. charter schools

The NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter schools is the subject of a conversation at Dropout Nation between RiShawn Biddle and Capital Prep’s Steve Perry.

The NAACP is “doing the bidding of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which have poured $380,500 into NAACP over the past five years,” charges Biddle. The civil-rights group “is no longer representing the interests of black families who demand high-quality education for the children they love.”

Success Academy kids continue to succeed on state exams.
Success Academy charter students aced state exams: 94% passed in math and 82% passed reading. Photo: Richard Harbus/New York Daily News

In New York City, black and Hispanic charter students are twice as likely to be proficient in math and 50 percent more likely to be proficient in reading as similar students in district schools, reports the New York Post. 

The Success Academy charter network, which primarily educates black and Hispanic students, “had the top five schools in the entire state in math, and two of the top five in English.”

Charter schools don’t suspend more kids

Charter schools don’t suspend more students than nearby district schools, according to Nat Malkus, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow writing on RealClearEducation.

“Charters have come under increasing fire in the media for their alleged disproportionately harsh discipline practices,” he writes. “A widely cited report by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA finding that charter schools have higher suspension rates than traditional public schools, particularly for students of color and students with disabilities.”

That’s not true, when charters are compared to the neighboring schools students might otherwise attend, Malkus’ research has found. Half of charters have similar suspension rates. The rest are more likely to be lower than nearby district schools than they are to be higher.

In response to Education Secretary John King’s call for charters to rethink tough discipline policies, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli worries about top-down dictates to remove the suspension tool.

“There’s a big risk that discouraging schools from suspending kids will result in more disorder in the classroom (though in-school suspensions could keep that from happening),” Petrilli writes. “More disorder is disastrous for all kids, but especially poor children of color (who) make up the vast majority of the nation’s charter school population.”

Parents often choose charters because they’re more likely to provide a safe, orderly environment, he writes.

There’s a reasonable case, then, for simply making suspension data transparent to the public and to parents, who can decide which schools to shun and which to patronize.

Flypaper is running more responses to King’s speech on charter school discipline.

Virtual charters: Can they be saved?

Students at all-online “virtual” charter schools do significantly worse than comparable students at brick-and-mortar schools, concludes a 2015 study by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Math gains were so poor it was “as though the student did not go to school for the entire year,” CREDO director Macke Raymond told reporters.

In an Education Next forum, Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, argues that Online Charters Expand Learning Optionswhile Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, counters that Online Charters Mostly Don’t Work.

Both agree that all-online learning works only for highly motivated, self-disciplined students or those with strong parental support.

Both call for linking funding of virtual schools to students’ performance. Virtual charters attract very mobile students. The traditional model often gives virtual schools a full year’s funding for a student who gives it a try for a few weeks or months, then moves on.

They disagree on the validity of the CREDO study.

CREDO doesn’t account adequately for virtual students’ high mobility and learning problems before they enroll, Vander Ark argues.

Better measures of academic growth are needed, he writes. These “would include examining the performance of new and returning students, as well as that of on-time and late-enrolled students; defining full-academic year students; and looking at longitudinal student performance, such as progress toward graduation in 4, 5, and 6 years.”

CREDO found virtual students “showed stronger performance both before and after their tenure in virtual schools,” responds Richmond. Other studies also “have documented dismal outcomes in virtual schools, including low course-completion rates and higher-than-average school dropout rates.”

Last month, three national charter school groups released a report calling for “a better regulatory framework to govern full-time virtual charter schools.”

Union v. charters in Los Angeles

A Broad Foundation plan to double the number of Los Angeles charter schools has sparked fierce pushback by the teachers’ union, writes Richard Whitmire in Education Next.

The $490 million proposal, which aimed to enroll half the district’s students in charter within eight years, was leaked last fall.

Not surprisingly, United Teachers of Los Angeles is using the plan “to pursue the national anti-charter theme of billionaires trying to privatize public schools,” writes Whitmire.

Teachers voted a big increase in union dues to fight charter expansion.

Los Angeles charter schools “are among the best in the nation at helping low-income minority students succeed in school,” Whitemire writes.

In 2014, Stanford’s CREDO found that L.A. charter-school students, on average, gained the equivalent of 50 additional days of learning per year in reading and 79 additional days in math, compared to district school students.

Currently, about one in five students in the district goes to a charter.

Parent Revolution, an advocacy group, has launched Choice4LA to help low-income parents apply to charter and district schools.

In some cities, parents can fill out one application to apply for district and charter schools. Superintendent Michelle King is working on “creating a unified application system for district schools only,” reports Ed Week.

Too much choice in Detroit?


Ana Rivera has sent her son Omar, a fourth grader, and his brother to several charter schools. Photo: Joshua Lott/New York Times

A Sea of Charter Schools in Detroit Leaves Students Adrift proclaims the New York Times in a front-page story.

Competition hasn’t improved Detroit’s dreadful public schools, reports Kate Zernike. There’s “lots of choice, with no good choice.”

Furthermore, “half the charters perform only as well, or worse than, Detroit’s traditional public schools.”

It’s a hatchet job, responds Jay Greene.

The story cites an analysis by Stanford’s CREDO that found Leona charter students do poorly, but ignored what CREDO said about Detroit charters as a whole. The city’s charter students are “significantly outpacing” similar students in traditional Detroit public schools, notes Greene. The story did not mention this fact.

And on the specific claim the article makes that “half the charters perform only as well, or worse than, Detroit’s traditional public schools” this is what the Stanford study has to say: “In reading, 47 percent of charter schools perform significantly better than their traditional public school market, which is more positive than the 35% for Michigan charter schools as a whole. In math, 47 percent of Detroit charter schools perform significantly better than their local peers, the same proportion as for the charters as a whole statewide.”

The study found that only 1% of Detroit’s charters performs significantly worse than the traditional public schools in reading and only 7% in math.

Zernike bemoans the “chaos” caused by the “glut” of schools, writes Greene. Detroit parents who aren’t satisfied with their child’s school can pick a new charter, suburban, private or traditional school. Schools compete for students. How bad is that?

Zernike’s use of data is “misleading,” writes Alexander Russo, who talked to  CREDO senior research associate James Woodworth. “You could just as easily say that 96 percent of charters in Detroit did the same or better than traditional schools,” notes Woodworth.

Michigan’s new education bill is a start at improving school quality, writes Daniel Quisenberry.

Robin Lake disagrees, arguing the legislation is way too weak.

25 years of charters: They’re not alike

In Charter schools at 25, Education Week looks at what’s changed since Minnesota passed the first law authorizing publicly funded, privately operated charter schools.

One story looks at two very different charter schools. St. Paul’s teacher-led Avalon School draws middle-class, white students interested in project-based learning. Alliance for College Ready Schools in Los Angeles focus on preparing lower-income Latino and black students to be the first in their families to go to college.

Some observers inside and outside the sector contend they have wandered far from their original purpose: to be schools of innovation and serve as a research and development sector for traditional K-12 schools. In many ways, Minnesota still embodies some of the early ideas, while cities such as Los Angeles represent what the charter movement has become: an engine powered by muscular foundations for raising the prospects of low-income African-American and Latino students.

“Raising the prospects” of kids who most need a decent education seems like a good goal to me. If project-based learning isn’t the most effective method for doing that — or black and Latino parents prefer a more structured, orderly school — why is that a problem?

 Nationwide, 5 percent of K-12 students attend charters, but in 14 cities, 30 percent or more have chosen charters.
Harvest Schools in Minneapolis are designed for African-American and East African students. Photo: Minneapolis Post

Harvest Schools in Minneapolis are designed for African-American and East African students.

Blacks make up 28 percent of charter students, nearly double their percentage in traditional public schools, according to an Ed Week analysis of federal data. Twenty-nine percent of charter students are Latino, compared to 25 percent at traditional schools. Whites are under-represented at charters.

Critics also claim all-minority charters — chosen by parents — are “resegregating” education.

Minnesota allows charters targeted to African-American, Native American, Somali and Hmong students, reports Ed Week. Some worry the schools aren’t diverse.

For example, Minneapolis’ Harvest Network of Schools enrolls low-income African-American and East African students, placing some in single-gender programs. The curriculum is “steeped in African history and culture.”

Obviously, some parents prefer Harvest’s focus to what’s offered at their more integrated (but probably low-income, high-minority) neighborhood school.