Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Charter School Tactics

Today at Alexander Russo’s “This Week on Education”

On KIPP: "Just Another Model Program"?

"Until KIPP tries to succeed within an entire, single community, it is, for all its remarkable rise and deserved praise, just another model program that has yet to prove it can succeed with all—or even most—disadvantaged children."

Sara Mosle on Jay Mathews' KIPP book in Slate

Ah, yes, those MOST disadvantaged children. Remember them?

KIPP’s school in Oakland has a specially selected population -- there is no doubt.

When Oakland Unified was taken over by the state in 2003, courtesy of the California State Superintendent of Education who received major campaign contributions from pro-charter forces (Eli Broad & friends), a whole host of graduates from the Broad Academy were sent to transform the district. We were one of the first districts they obtained control of, and as a result, nearly 20% of our students now attend charter schools.

Under the pro-charter reign, there has been NO district-led interest in looking at the charter schools with a critical eye, nor in revealing the tactics they use to boost their test scores. The only so-called “reports” have been ones periodically issued by the pro-charter California Charter School Association. I guess they think we're stupid.

As a result, I decided to independently investigate my local charter schools. This week I compared charter vs. non-charter middle schools using the CDE data for 2007-08.

California documents the average Parent Educational Level at each school. The figure is an average of all responses where:

  • "1" represents "Not a high school graduate"
  • “2” represents “High school graduate”
  • “3” represents “Some college”
  • “4” represents “College graduate”
  • "5" represents "Graduate school"

The PEL at the charter middle schools was 2.42. The average for our non-charter schools was 2.08. Charter middle schools in Oakland have a more educated parent body.

The Oakland KIPP school was third from the charter school top, at 3.27 (the highest charter PEL was 3.63). In comparison, the PEL’s for the two middle schools in the same neighborhood were 2.20 and 2.15. Of course, a lower PEL will influence each school's student achievement.

In the scheme of the charters and non-charters combined, a total of 36 schools, the KIPP parent body is the fifth most educated. Their education rivals Montera Middle School (PEL = 3.37), Oakland's high achieving middle school in the hills (API = 794). KIPP's API = 760.

In addition to the variation in parent education levels, a wide variation is also reflected in the percentage of students w/disabilities between the charter schools and the non-charters. Oakland's charter middle schools are managing to avoid these needy students.

KIPP had 3% students w/disabilities. The two other middle schools in the same neighborhood had 4% and 11%.

The district non-charter middle school average for students w/disabilities is 9%. It reaches a high of 17% at one traditional middle school. The charter middle school average was 3.9%.

The most blatant avoidance of students w/disabilities is by the American Indian Model schools. These are the Blue-Ribbon-award-winning American Indian Public Charter School, the American Indian Public Charter School II, and the Oakland Charter Academy. Their combined enrollment in 2007-08 of students w/disabilities was 1.3%.

Throughout the district, students w/disabilities test significantly lower than other subgroups, their district-wide API is only 470. When a school has one-tenth or more of its population producing extremely low test scores, those figures will also lower the test scores for the whole school -- and these are the numbers upon which the schools are largely judged.

It is also important to note that when there are enough students at a school with severe emotional and social problems on top of their cognitive problems, the entire school climate can be negatively affected. The regular inner-city schools are responsible for a substantial number of these kids, but the charter schools are given a pass.

So really, how much of KIPP’s achievement, and the praise lavished on it by so many, is truly deserved? How much is a result of parent self-selection and the screening-out of the most low-performing subgroup?

Is it right to blame the regular public schools for lower achievement, when they have a student body that is much more disadvantaged? Perhaps the special "innovation" that charter schools have discovered is how selection and self-selection will produce higher test scores.

One more thing...

I am just getting underway with looking into the enormous financial contributions that KIPP and other charters receive as a supplement to their state per pupil funding. These contributions, often delivered by pro-charter agents, permit them to pay teachers for extended days, cover the costs of summer programs, etc. In the meantime, the regular schools are being chronically starved to death, after which they are labeled as failures.

For instance, the 2006 990 form for KIPP Bay Area shows that the Oakland KIPP school received $138,117 in the previous year. This amount of money would pay for at least two teachers. The school serves ~175 kids.

Undercover supplementary funding gives the charters a hidden advantage over the regular public schools that are trying their best to serve difficult-to-educate populations, and the scope of this advantage needs to be made public. As it stands now, the stealth nature of this extra funding is one of the methods being deployed to undermine, and ultimately destroy, our traditional public education system.

ALL schools need to be funded sufficiently. ALL students would benefit if the schools were provided with the means to meet the needs of their most disadvantaged students. All that charter schools do is cause them to become more and more concentrated together, so that they can still be perpetually neglected.


Unknown said...

Wow! Excellent number crunching. It is good to have someone like you who is able to put facts up to show what is so obvious. Now, if only folks would read it!!!

You are awesome!!

ed notes online said...

Delicious stuff. I don't even have to have dessert.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why there is such a big obsession about charter schools getting additional private funding:

The other and more numerous type of public schools (schools in the local district) receive private philanthropy all of the time. The vast majority of Gates Foundation and Broad Foundation money goes to district schools. Nobody cries foul when the vast majority of US charters who are not in networks, the mom-and-pops get left out of the equation.

In the end, charter schools are public schools full of public school kids.