It's no secret that the vast majority of Ohio charter schools are rated F, but what of some of the "high performing" schools? It is with those in mind, we read with interest the article "The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment" .
This commentary offers a classification of twelve different approaches that charter schools use to structure their student enrollment. These practices impact the likelihood of students enrolling with a given set of characteristics, be it higher (or lower) test scores, students with ‘expensive’ disabilities, English learners, students of color, or students in poverty.
Yet little attention has been paid to the mechanisms that generate these differences. One exception is an article in February of 2013, written by reporter Stephanie Simon of Reuters, which described a variety of ways that charter schools “get the students they want” (Simon, 2013):
- Applications that are made available just a few hours a year.
- Lengthy application forms, often printed only in English, that require student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations and medical records.
- Demands that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even though such documents cannot be required under federal law.
- Mandatory family interviews.
- Assessment exams.
- Academic prerequisites.
- Requirements that applicants document any disabilities or special needs. The U.S. Department of Education considers this practice illegal on the college level but has not addressed the issue for K-12 schools.
We thought we would pick one charter school and test this hypothesis. We picked DAYTON EARLY COLLEGE ACADEMY, INC. (DECA), as they were elevated by they Fordham Foundation and recently testified on the budget as part of a "coalition of high performing charters".
Following introductions from Fordham’s Terry Ryan, Dayton Early College Academy’s Superintendent Judy Hennessey began to speak in front of the Subcommittee only to be interrupted by Committee Chair Senator Randy Gardner, “Senator [Peggy] Lehner has just commented you lead one of the best schools in the country.”
Jokingly Judy Hennessey nodded and said, “Now we are striving for world class.”
The application process.
Here's DECA's application, which can also be downloaded here.
High School Application 2013-14
The first thing you will note is the application form is 23 pages long, requiring hundreds of pieces of information to be entered including report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations and medical records. In fact, all mechanisms mentioned in the reuters article commonly used to screen prospective students. This is a significant barrier that only the most determined parent is likely to scale.
The page where the applications can be downloaded clearly states, in bold, "Incomplete applications will not be considered."
A parent who is likely to complete such a detailed, lengthy application is likely a parent who is going to be engaged in their child's education to a greater degree than a parent who is unlikely to apply.
Furthermore, as is pointed out in the 12 approaches charters use to screen for students, this application is in English only. No second language form is available on the application webpage- making English as a second language applications far less likely.
You will also see that on page 5 of the application
Documents needed for a complete application
Student birth certificate
Student social security card
"Demands that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even though such documents cannot be required under federal law." is one of the tell-take screening mechanisms charters use.
The DECA application form also requests that applicants document any disabilities or special needs, another potential barrier spelled out in the article.
So we can plainly see then, that while DECA may produce above average results for a charter school, it can do so because it has a highly selective application process that is likely to screen out lower performing students.
The performance results
We were expecting a charter school whose leader professed to be aiming for "world class standards" to be rated Excellent with Distinction. DECA is not, indeed it is not even rated Excellent, instead it rates as "Effective" according to the latest data available from ODE.
||Dayton Early College Academy, Inc
|Open/Closed Status (as of 9/18/2012)
|Number of standards met
|Number of standards possible
|Performance Index Score 2011-12
|Performance Index Score 2010-11
|Performance Index Score 2009-10
|2012 Attendance AYP
|2012 Graduation AYP
|2012 Reading AYP
|2012 Math AYP
|2012 Overall AYP
|Four-Year "On-Time" Graduation Rate Numerator 2010-11
These aren't bad results, indeed compared to the majority of F rated charter schools they are positively giddy. But, given the arduous application screening process, and the "effective" rating, it's a far cry from being world beating, and a very far cry from the world of traditional public schools which have to accept every student from the district that walks through the door.