Charters adopt common applications

Applying to charter schools is getting easier in some cities, reports Education Week. Charter schools are adopting universal enrollment systems and common applications, so parents can apply to multiple charter schools at the same time.

• Denver launched a centralized enrollment system called SchoolChoice in 2010 for all district-run and charter schools in the 85,000-student system.

• In New Orleans, the Louisiana Recovery School District, in partnership with the Orleans Parish School Board, debuted a universal enrollment system called OneApp for charter and district-run schools in February 2012 and is now entering its third year of a unified lottery system serving the city’s 44,000 students.

• The Newark and District of Columbia school systems are making plans to implement universal enrollment systems for their district-run and charter schools for the 2014-15 school year.

Before OneApp, New Orleans parents had to deal with multiple applications, deadlines and lotteries. Now they apply once for both district-run and charter schools, ranking their choices in order of preference. Each student gets one “best offer.”

Master teachers take the lead

A master teacher, an assistant and blended learning produced “great results” at a new charter school with very disadvantaged children, concludes Public Impact‘s Opportunity Culture project. Touchstone Education opened Merit Preparatory Charter School in Newark in 2012 with a class of sixth graders. Most were several years below grade level; 90 percent came from low-income families.

By March 2013, seven months into the school year, students demonstrated two years of growth in reading and 1.25 years of growth in science. In math, where Touchstone leaders were unable to hire a master teacher, students made three-fourths of a year of growth by March.

The model allows master teachers, who lead teams of novice and developing teachers, to earn up to $100,000 a year, within per-pupil funding. Tiffany McAfee, the master teacher in literacy, worked with first-year Teach For America teacher Jonathan Wigfall in the school’s first year.

Laptop-equipped students were grouped by skill level. McAfee lead whole-group instruction and helped students work through their playlists of individualized lessons, while Wigall rotated among students to help them with questions and keep them on track.

For example, one day students worked in groups to study slides on figurative language,then watched a music video while listening on headphones,taking notes on examples of figurative language in the lyrics. Meanwhile, both teachers moved through the room, overseeing their work. Students then came together for a whole class discussion with McAfee, who asked higher-level questions about the purpose of figurative language and the author’s intent.

Helping less-experienced teachers improve their skills is part of the master teacher’s job. McAfee and Wigfall reviewed the week’s data every Friday and planned the following week’s lessons. The master teacher also worked with the school’s reading specialist and the special education teacher to plan the daily, three-hour reading block. (Students are pulled out for an hour of P.E.)

Next year, Merit Prep will hire a master teach in math in hopes of achieving gap-closing progress.

Charlotte, North Carolina is redesigning teachers’ jobs to improve low-performing schools, write Public Impact’s Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel in Education Next.  Again, the idea is to give more students access to excellent teachers, while using novices in support roles.

Charlotte, N.C.’s Project L.I.F.T.New Teaching Roles Create Culture of Excellence in High-Need Schools explains the plan. In One Teacher’s View of Becoming a Paid Teacher-Leader, a veteran teacher talks about becoming a multi-classroom leader.

Charters get $4,000 less per student

Charter schools received one third less per-pupil funding — about $4,000 less per student — than district-run schools in Denver, Milwaukee, Newark, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles in 2007 to 2011, according to a University of Arkansas study commissioned by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation. “In the large, urban school districts evaluated, traditional public schools receive substantially more local, state and federal funds than public charter schools,” said lead researcher Larry Maloney.

As of 2011, the charter funding gap ranged from $2,684 in Denver to nearly $13,000 in Washington D.C.

Denver—$11,139; $2,684 less than regular public schools
Los Angeles—$8,780; $4,666 less than regular public schools
Milwaukee—$10,298; $4,720 less than regular public schools
Newark—$15,973; $10,214 less than regular public schools
District of Columbia—$16,361; $12,784 less than regular public schools

The research will appear in the September issue of The Journal of School Choice.

A 2010 Ball State study of charter school funding in 24 states and the District of Columbia found that charter school students received 19.2 percent (or $2,247) less per-pupil funding than students in regular public schools.

New Jersey union fights blended learning

New Jersey’s biggest teachers’ union is suing to shut down charter schools that use “blended learning,” a mix of online and group learning, according to the Hechinger Report.

Merit Prep opened this fall in Newark with 80 sixth-grade students, “mostly black, poor and below grade level,” and plans to add one grade level each year. Students spend part of the day working on laptops. They’re able to move forward at their own pace.

The online curriculum feeds each student’s answers into a data center operated by Touchstone Education, the non-profit school management group that runs Merit Prep. The data center then spits out reports that (math teacher Ben) Conant can use to monitor his students’ progress, figure out what one-on-one coaching each student needs and adjust what he will teach when he pulls a few kids aside into glass-enclosed seminar rooms for small-group instruction.

However, the New Jersey Education Association has gone to court to shut down Merit Prep and another charter school that uses blending learning, reports Hechinger. “The union’s lawsuit argues that charter schools can’t emphasize online instruction until the New Jersey state legislature evaluates and approves it.”

“Should we be experimenting with students during their academic experience?” asks Steve Wollmer, the union’s communications director. “They only get one trip through the public schools.”

After all, non-blended learning is a proven success in Newark. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

CREDO: Indiana charter students do well

Students at Indiana charter schools outperformed similar students at traditional public schools in math and reading, concludes a new report from Stanford’s CREDO. Indianapolis charter students did especially well, reports Ed Week.

The study tracked 15,297 charter school students at 64 schools from grades 3-8. On average, students in charter schools ended the year having made the equivalent of 1.5 more months of learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school counterparts did. Students in charter schools in Indianapolis ended the year ahead of their traditional public school counterparts by two months in reading and three months in math.

Charter students and the control group were matched by  demographic and performance data (gender, race/ethnicity, special education status, English language proficiency, free-or-reduced lunch participation, grade level, and prior test scores on state achievement tests).

In Indiana, 58 percent of charter students are black, compared to 11 percent of the state’s students. Eleven percent of charter students are in special education compared to 15 percent in traditional public schools.

In a wrap-up on education research in 2012, Matthew Di Carlo notes that CREDO’s research on charter gains in Indiana and New Jersey show most of the progress comes in big cities, Indianapolis and Newark. By contrast, rural charter students tend to underperform similar students.

One contentious variation on this question is whether charter schools “cream” higher-performing students, and/or “push out” lower-performing students, in order to boost their results. Yet another Mathematica supplement to their 2010 report examining around 20 KIPP middle schools was released, addressing criticisms that KIPP admits students with comparatively high achievement levels, and that the students who leave are lower-performing than those who stay. This report found little evidence to support either claim (also take a look at our post on attrition and charters).

An another analysis, presented in a conference paper, “found that low-performing students in a large anonymous district did not exit charters at a discernibly higher rate than their counterparts in regular public schools,” DiCarlo adds.

On the flip side of the entry/exit equation, this working paper found that students who won charter school lotteries (but had not yet attended the charter) saw immediate “benefits” in the form of reduced truancy rates, an interesting demonstration of the importance of student motivation.

Di Carlo has more on the research this year on charter management organizations, merit pay and teacher evaluations using value-added and growth measures.

CREDO: New Jersey charters do well

Children in New Jersey charter schools gained an average of three additional months of learning per year in math, and two additional months of learning in reading compared to students in traditional public schools,” according to a new study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford.

Using a “virtual control record” methodology, CREDO compared students in third through eighth grade with similar students in traditional public schools from 2007 to 2011. It found 30 percent of New Jersey charters outperformed regular public schools in reading, while 11 percent of charter did worse. In math, 40 percent of charters did significantly better than traditional schools, while 13 percent fared worse.

Special ed students do about the same in charters as in traditional public schools, the study found.  English Language Learners in charter schools — a small group — have similar gains in reading and significantly better results in math.

Compared to neighboring schools, New Jersey charter schools enroll nearly twice as many blacks, half as many whites and Asians and somewhat fewer Latinos. The poverty numbers are almost identical.

Urban charters did very well, suburban charters did somewhat better and rural charters did worse. Newark’s charter students gained an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math.

Newark’s school district is trying to improve, pushed by its high-performing charter schools, writes Andy Smarick. But if the reforms don’t work, “chartering can replace the district,” he argues.

 

Newark’s failing schools swap teachers

The $5 million turnaround plan for three low-performing Newark high schools required replacing half the teachers. Instead of letting principals hire new teachers, the schools swapped teachers. Some 68 teachers were shuffled among Malcom X Shabazz High, Central High School and Barringer High School, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

Shabazz, which employs 90 teachers, sent 21 to Barringer, which sent 21 over to Shabazz. Central teachers also ended up at Shabazz and Barringer, though the school didn’t take as many transfers.

“Federal money may have unintentionally funded the infamous ‘dance of the lemons’ that has been a harmful practice in districts for decades,” said Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group that helps school districts recruit teachers.

“If these teachers truly were not good enough for one struggling school, we have to ask whether it is a good idea to put them in another one,” he said.

Cami Anderson, who became superintendent in May, vows to stop the swaps, but it will cost money to pay the salaries of unwanted teachers. New Jersey law requires the district to pay tenured teachers, even if no principal will hire them.

Test scores are up significantly at Central High — let’s hope they’re not cheating — but have remained the same or lower at Barringer and Shabazz.

 

Newark bickers over Facebook donation

Newark’s troubled schools are getting $100 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Mayor Cory Booker has raised another $44 million in donations, so far.  But Newark is split on how to spend the windfall, reports the Wall Street Journal. Booker, who spent $1 million surveying what parents want from the schools, plans to close failing schools, open new schools and let charters share space with district-run schools. He also wants longer school days and weaker tenure protections for principals and teachers.

This week, nearly $1 million was awarded to five new high schools, which will share space with existing schools. Critics say the money should go to the old schools. And they want Booker to reveal the donors who gave $44 million.

“I know you’re not supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth,” said Councilwoman Mildred Crump at a public hearing Wednesday evening at City Hall. “Well I’m checking this one out.” Residents in the audience applauded her sentiment.

Only 22 percent of Newark’s high school students pass the state graduation exam and earn a diploma on schedule; another 33 percent graduate through an alternative system. Tens of thousands of children are on charter-school waiting lists. Even before Zuckerberg’s donation was announced in September, new schools were in the planning stages, Booker points out.

Newark schools have been under state control since 1995.  Republican Gov. Chris Christie fired the superintendent in February. Booker, a Democrat, is collaborating with Christie on school reform plans. That’s angered and alarmed unionized teachers and their political allies who don’t want to see the spread of non-union charter schools.

(Councilwoman) Crump joined a union rally and protest outside of City Hall Wednesday afternoon before the public hearing. She implored the protesters to vote for a certain slate of candidates on April 27. “We have a clear choice between those who will do nothing for labor and those who will do everything for labor,” she said into the microphone. She told the protesters to vote for the three candidates who “are about labor.” She then led people in a chant: “Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs,” and added: “Jobs that are safe and secure!”

District enrollment is declining. Some 400 school district employees may lose their jobs this year.

Newark school woes transcend money, summarizes USA Today. “Last week the school advisory board voted against opening the new schools. The district plans to open them anyway. Students are already signing up.”

Newark kids use Facebook to protest rats, guns

Two weeks after Facebook’s founder promised $100 million to improve Newark schools, students used Facebook to organize a protest against their high school’s inability to control gangsta, rodent and insect infestations.

On Thursday, students at Barringer High School in Newark walked out of class in protest, saying their school is unsafe and unsanitary.

Students tell The Star-Ledger of Newark there are rats, mice, cockroaches, spiders, guns and fights in the hallways.

During the afternoon protest, students left the building in waves of 10 or 20, but some said security guards blocked doors to prevent anyone from going outside.

Students spread the word of the protest on Facebook.

Mark Zuckberg’s donation was conditioned on Gov. Chris Christie giving Newark Mayor Cory Booker control of the schools, something the governor may lack the authority to do.  It’s not clear how this will be resolved.

The money wasn’t likely to make a difference, writes Rick Hess. Newark is spending $940 million this year,  more than $22,000 per pupil, and graduates less than half the students.  (And can’t keep the schools free of rats.) An extra $100 million over four years, even if it generated matching funds, is not significant.

Furthermore, Zuckerberg missed the chance to “use the money to leverage hard-to-win changes.”

It’s hard for even far-seeing union leaders to convince veteran union members to accept reforms to evaluation, tenure, or pay policies. It’s much easier if they can tell their members that such changes are what it will take to unlock new funds. District leadership reluctant to close half-empty facilities, overhaul operations, or push for cuts in benefits will find its path somewhat easier if such measures will open doors for new funding. As in any negotiation, one’s leverage is greatest before signing on the dotted line. Unfortunately, Zuckerberg missed an important opportunity to provide political cover to Booker and Christie, or to ensure that his money would be well spent.

Superintendents don’t have much discretionary money, so $50 million a year could make a difference, “if spent smart,” Hess concedes. But the signs aren’t promising.

Booker is promising to solicit ideas from the community, seems none too eager to suggest tough measures, and Zuckerberg didn’t push or demand tough medicine. This sounds to me like a formula for more tepid measures to boost professional development, add programs, tweak curriculum, and the rest.

The legal problems give Zuckerberg a chance to rethink the donation. If he can’t condition the donation on mayoral control, he can condition it on agreement to make difficult changes.  Of course, that lets an outside philanthropist dictate school policy, which will be very unpopular.

47% of black males graduate on time

Only 47 percent of black male students earned a high school diploma on schedule in 2008, reports the Schott Foundation.  In New York, 25 percent of black males earned a Regents diploma on time.

New Jersey, with a 69 percent black male graduation rate, is the only state with a significant black population to top 65 percent. Maryland came second at 55 percent with California third at 54 percent and Pennsylvania close behind at 53 percent.

Not known for educational excellence, Newark had the highest black male graduation rate of any major city, notes Jay Mathews.

In Newark, the graduation rate for black males was 76 percent. The other school districts nearest that level were Fort Bend, Tex. (68 percent), Baltimore County, Md. (67 percent) and Montgomery County, Md. (65 percent). The list only included states with more than 100,000 black male students and districts with more than 10,000 black male students.

New Jersey’s data is self-reported by schools and may be inflated, Mathews warns. In addition, the state lets schools graduate some students who haven’t passed the state graduation exam. One way to raise graduation rates is to lower standards.

Black female students, who face different social pressures, do much better than their brothers.