Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Myth Of Charter School Academic Excellence.

If you read the newspapers, the Republican Presidential candidates, and even many Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Ron Emmanuel, you get the impression the charter schools are the answer to academic excellence.  However, the truth is very different.

Sure some charter schools have proven academic success but that's because these few schools practice policies that exclude many English Language Learners, Special Education students, and impose discipline policies that remove behaviorally challenged students from their schools. These charter schools like Success, and KIPPS are compared to the neighborhood public school when it comes to test scores but these same politicians and media outlets ignore the disparity of "high needs" students between the public and these charter schools.  Moreover, the news media and politicians turn a collective "blind eye" on the failure of these high-performing charter schools to "backfill" the openings by accepting new students.  The result are smaller and smaller cohorts and class sizes from third grade on, the testing grades. I wrote about this previously Here.

A favorite trick these schools do is to encourage parents to withdrawal their academically struggling child at the end of second grade by telling the parent that they will need to hold the child back if they insist in keeping the child in the school.  However, if they remove the child from the school and go to the public school, they will advance them to third grade.  The result is the high performing charter school keeps their test scores high while dumping the academically struggling student onto the public school.  Moreover, if the student is behaviorally challenged, the high achieving charter school will expel the student and dump them as well onto the public school.  Finally, these high achieving charter schools will plead lack of resources or expertise when it comes to English Language Learners or Special Education students and will discourage these "high needs" students from attending their school.

Excluding these few high-achieving charter schools, the vast majority of the charter schools cannot afford to turn down students, even when they are amply funded by hedge fund managers and well-heeled individuals and struggle academically, many of them having lower test scores than the neighborhood public schools.  While some of these schools hire ex-police officers as Deans and discipline is better enforced, these charter schools suffer from the biggest libility, "quality teachers" that the public schools have.

The big bug-a-boo, even in the high achieving charter schools is the transitional and unstable teaching staff.  Even in the best charter schools, there is a nearly complete turnover of the teaching staff in three years. In many charter schools almost all the teachers are replaced yearly and in a story I published previously, one charter school had seven Science teachers for one position in the 2014-15 school year!

This year a charter school teachers told me that the school had teacher orientation and the staff consisted of discontinued or terminated (under 3020-a) teachers, Teach for America "newbies" and teachers suspended by the DOE for incompetence under section 3020-a for the school, year.  While some of these teachers probably were unfairly charged or discontinued by the DOE, not all of them were, and the Teach For America "newbies" have no classroom management skills or curriculum knowledge whatsoever.  For this charter school, its not about "quality teachers" but a warm body.

Even in the high achieving charter schools, none of the students from the Success Academy were academically proficient enough to be accepted by the many specialized public schools in the City and the reason is probably a combination of the lack of a stable and experienced teaching staff and the mindless test preparation at the expense of real education at these schools .

When I continue to read the newspapers and hear the politicians singing the praises of the charter schools I only snicker because the truth is the charter schools are academically struggling and do little to add real knowledge educationally to the student.  It's all "smoke and mirrors" when it comes to real academic success for the average charter school student.


Anonymous said...

Side note. Time to mention that the 2nd quarter results for non fixed areas of TDA were terrible. If you're not in fixed, time to make the change and it's in effect Oct1st.

Chaz said...

That's the risk of putting money into equities. However, you still need equities in the long run to combat the effects of inflation, especially in retirement.

Anonymous said...

Another point of consideration is that Charter's are not subject to many of these compliance laws, so I know of many cases where principals and assistant principals and other such administrators are hired and are assuming various school leadership positions without ever having previously worked in that capacity before, or without holding an administrators/building license.

On the side of working in the Charter world, I would say that it's probably better to tough it out in the DOE as bad as we already know the DOE is. Charters do not participate in TRS. There is no TDA, and usually no overtime that I know of. The hours are longer and the school is open on many days that the public schools are off.

I was discontinued from the DOE so I had no choice but to take a job at a Charter school. The school is actually a network of about 5 schools. I am in my early 30s so I am by no means old. But the vast majority of the employees in the entire network are these kids in their early to mid twenties. I'm taking about 80%., so naturally I feel very out of place. I see very very few middle age people and that's not just in my school, that's in the entire network. This tells me that the turnover is enormous. 75% of the staff in my school alone left since before the summer.

Don't get me wrong..I'm happy that I have a job for now, but I just can't see myself working here very long. Plus the mantra that the leaders are trying to embed in the minds of the staff is becoming a bit redundant. The rah rah annoys me to no end since these people seem to have no humanistic qualities, and are just acting and engaging in dialgues as they were programed to.

Laura D. said...

I generally agree with your post, after working in suburban Massachusetts public school and then a "high achieving" NYC charter school. I would cautiously throw all the charters schools together though. As far as I know (and I was never at a KIPP) by looking at the available public data, KIPP does back fill, has a 20% special education rate in most schools, and takes middle school kids beginning in 5th grade. They are definitely low in terms of students with extreme needs, but so are many public schools. Many public schools do not have 12:1 or 12:1:1 or certainly the services a D-75 school would have. That to me is more an issue of not being able to pool resources across many schools or being able to belong to a collaborative with highly tailored programs. That said, charters should be able to meet the needs of almost all students if they want their praises sung honestly.

To your point, the charter I came from does not backfill so you can clearly see the incredible purge of students based on the number of students who sit for the test each year. But it begins in kindergarten as students are retained regularly for not meeting running record (subjective, high standard error) standards for the end of the year. They begin with 70-90 kids in kindergarten and have upper grades ranging from 25-45. Something is incredibly amiss there and unethical, hence why I left.

I have never been in a school or heard of a charter expelling a student. It was in our charter that we would not expel a student. There was definitely conversations, especially among parents of younger students, that the services to support them were not available. While part of me believes this type of conversation is unethical and counter to many charters' missions, I also think it has to do with the incredible lack of education among many charter school leaders about how to support such students, misinformation, parents removing students once the school contacts them too much, etc. Plus the lack of ability or knowledge to support low-incidence disabilities or behaviors. I think charters can help change conversation and innovate, but they are certainly not the answer nor the problem as only 4% of nyc schools.