How "top charters" screen students

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.

Building IRN 009283
Building Name Dayton Early College Academy, Inc
District IRN 043844
District Name Dayton City
County Montgomery
Principal Judy Hennessey
Grade Span 7-12
Open/Closed Status (as of 9/18/2012) Open
Designation Effective
Number of standards met 14
Number of standards possible 17
Enrollment 411
Performance Index Score 2011-12 99.1
Performance Index Score 2010-11 100.5
Performance Index Score 2009-10 96.2
2012 Attendance AYP N/A
2012 Graduation AYP Not Met
2012 Reading AYP Met
2012 Math AYP Met
2012 Overall AYP Not Met
Four-Year "On-Time" Graduation Rate Numerator 2010-11 35

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.

Charters and their supporters failing our kids

ODE has finally released the full school report card, though only in spreadsheet format, and it comes with a warning

ODE will not publish PDFs of the Local Report Cards until the investigation by the Auditor of State is concluded.

We thought it would be useful to compare how effective traditional public schools were versus their charter school counterparts. The results are staggeringly bad for charter schools

Report Card Rating Traditional Schools Charter Schools
Academic Emergency 3.4% 18.8%
Academic Watch 4.6% 15.6%
Continuous Improvement 10.4% 27.3%
Effective 21.4% 15.6%
Excellent 41.0% 7.4%
Excellent with Distinction 14.4% 1.1%
Not Rated 4.8% 14.2%

61.6% of all charter schools in Ohio are less than effective, while that can only be said of 18.4% of traditional schools. If the purpose of charter schools was to be incubators of excellence, they are doing a very poor job, with only 8.5% of them hitting the excellent or better rating. Indeed, if you truly want to see excellence, you have to look at traditional public schools, where over 55% are rated excellent or better.

If "school choice" organizations in Ohio had any integrity, the choice they would be urging in almost all cases, would be for parents to choose traditional public schools. In the vast majority of cases, their advocacy of charter schools are an advocacy of miserable failure, at huge tax payer expense.

Diane Ravitch spoke to this issue in Columbus yesterday

Proficiency testing and charter schools were billed in the late 1990s as solutions to a broken public-education system. Now, they are part of a failed status quo, said Ravitch, 74, an author and U.S. assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush.

Proficiency tests have changed — from something that assesses students to something used to punish teachers and schools, said Ravitch. And after a decade of poor results from charter schools, she said, the charter movement and high-stakes testing have proved to be failed national experiments.

Also at the same event, Greg Harris, the Ohio director of the 65,000-member charter-school advocacy group StudentsFirst

...charters were supposed to provide an experiment in innovation, and though many have failed, many others are working.

“The parents are making these choices” to go to charters, Harris said. “These are parents from high-poverty backgrounds who are making major sacrifices to get their kids out of failing schools.

“We agree with her that bad charter schools should be closed, but why close good ones?”

Parents are often steered into these choices by corporate education reformers and their boosters, like StudentsFirst, the most ironically named group of all. And when parents aren't being steered into wrong choices, it's because they are using factors other than quality to make their decisions, as we noted in this article.

The New Ohio Teacher Evaluation System

American Society Today has a great post up, that they have kindly allowed us to reproduce. If you're not bookmarking or following American Society Today, you're missing out on some great stuff.

As a result of Ohio House Bill 153, Ohio's budget, the legislature has mandated new standards for teacher evaluations. These new mandates apply to both Race to the Top districts and districts that did not receive Race to the Top funds. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) was given the task of developing the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES pronounced [ō-tĕs]). Ohio Senate Bill 316, the Mid-Budget Review made some changes to these requirements, so the requirements have continued to change. Despite these changes, there is a framework that has emerged as the basic structure for the system. Here is a link to Frequently Asked Questions about OTES from ODE: FAQs

ODE has recently released some videos on YouTube to help educate people about Ohio's new Teacher Evaluation System. These videos have been embedded below.

Ohio's Teacher Evaluation System-What's Changing?

Evaluation of Teacher Performance-How Will This Work?

 Evaluation of Student Growth Measures-How Will This Work?

In this video he does not talk a lot about the locally determined measures of student growth, which will be the measures used for the majority of teachers. The process that ODE has developed for developing these is known as Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), which he mentions in the video but does not explain. Here is a link to more information about Student Learning Objectives from the Symposium on Teacher Evaluations that ODE provided on May 25, 2012: http://ohioeducatoreval.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/slosymposiumpresentation.pdf
Here is a link to brief explanation of the Student Learning Objective process from ODE: Student Learning Objectives
Here is a link to the template checklist for writing Student Learning Objectives: SLO Checklist

Teacher Ratings -How Will They Be Used?

In this video he does not talk a lot about performance pay or employment decisions, which to many people are the most important topics related to teacher evaluations in Ohio. Ohio HB 153 requires that teachers who are rated "Accomplished" be paid more than teachers who are rated "Proficient." Also, any teacher rated "Ineffective" for two out of three years may not be renewed. Local districts will be developing these new performance pay systems over the next couple of years.

Superintendents say proposed school grading system gets F

The proposed new Ohio school district grading scale isn’t getting enthusiastic support by some local superintendents.

“I don’t understand what our state is trying to do to our public schools,” Elyria City Schools Superintendent Paul Rigda said. “What do they want from us?”

It's a good question.Let's take a look at what the state intends to do. The table below analyzes how schools using the current rating system will be allocated new grades. For example, only 94 of 1452 schools currently rated as "excellent" will receive an "A" grade, 4 of them currently rated "Excellent", will receive a "D", which is sure to come as a shock, though perhaps not as shocking as the 2 schools currently rated "Effective" which will receive an "F".

Overall Grade
2011 Performance Rating A B C D F Grand Total
Academic Emergency - - - 40 119 159
Academic Watch - - - 145 58 203
Continuous Improvement - - 72 322 44 438
Effective - 182 464 193 2 841
Excellent 94 1227 127 4 - 1452
Excellent with Distinction 130 186 - - - 316
Grand Total 224 1595 663 704 223 3409

You can view the entire list of simulated school ratings, here (xls).

How does this happen? Well, the state has decided to change not only the grading system, because apparently parents aren't smart enough to differentiate between "excellent" and "Academic Emergency", a move described as "Insulting" by one suprintendent, but to also change how grades are calculated. The new formulation will rely heavily upon test scores.

  • Percentage of State Indicators Met
  • Performance Index (based on test scores)
  • Achievement and Graduation Gap (based on test scores)
  • Value-Added (based on test scores)

As we have talked about at length before, there's a significant element of socioeconomic factors that affect these results.

According to an Excel regression analysis of ODE data on the new system at the district level, demographics (poverty, income, property valuation, teacher salaries, educational attainment levels, etc.) produce an R-squared value of .48 for the new system vs. an R-squared of .45 for the previous system. The closer to 1 (or -1), the stronger the correlation.

Under this new system is it likely that at least 70% of schools will see their ratings drop.

“What system is this,” he said. “What’s the point?”

With the increased focus on school district ratings, he stated it has been some what of an uphill battle to keep teachers and staff focused.

By having to keep the teachers motivated and pumped up, in lieu of increased pressure by the state to perform on standardized test, the district is finding it hard.

He simply tells his staff to look to their students as their motivation.

“They are doing all of this (winning awards and honing their skills and talents) because of their education,” he said. “It’s taking a lot of work to keep them (teachers and staff) pumped up.

Motivating students and staff isn't the only problem. It may also have a deleterious effect on house prices, at a time when prices are already depressed

Obviously no one is arguing that the ONLY reason that people pay 214% more to live in New Albany is because of its schools, but let’s face it, it’s a huge selling point. You’ve seen the billboards advertising otherwise uninteresting, treeless tract houses in recently-converted farmland trumpeting access to “Dublin schools!” That will no longer mean much.

Under the new plan, parents seeking “the best schools” for their kids in Central Ohio would no longer look at Dublin, Upper Arlington or New Albany. In fact, the only top-rated district remaining in the entire region is Granville, 40 miles away in Licking County. Better get ready for a long commute, moms and dads! The same challenges face Cuyahoga county parents. Where home buyers previously had seven “top-rated” districts to choose from, now they only have two. Sorry North Olmsted, sorry Mayfield.

The obvious concern with this plan is the impact it will have on levies. Despite recent success in passing crucial levies, voters might be less inclined to continue to support schools they see as having been downgraded, or not rated "Excellent". When the state is rolling back its financial support for public schools, forcing them to rely more and more upon local sources of funding, this seems counter to that, in effect helping to cut off all sources of money leaving only drastic cuts as a means to balance already broken budgets.

False choices in charter schools

In an interesting article pointing out some of the problems with charter school expansion, the Plain Dealer observes that in some districts, underperforming charters are sucking money away from their contemporary traditional public schools which are rated much higher.

Charter school supporters say all Ohio parents should be able to make the choice for their children, no matter how well their home districts may be doing overall. But district officials say it's unfair for their budgets to take a hit when they're doing a good job according to the state's criteria. And it's especially galling when students leave for a charter school with a lower state ranking.

"I have no problem if we're serving students with better options, but paying for a student to go from an excellent district school to a poor-performing charter doesn't seem right," said State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat who represents Mahoning County. "It doesn't make sense."

As well as sucking money away in order to provide a lower quality education, this story also reveals one of the other major problems with "choice". Parents don't necessarily make rational choices when it comes to their child's education. Factors other than school performance play significant roles. When parents realize their mistake, the cost to their child and the district can be significant

In Parma, for example, the district gets a total of $2,030 per pupil from the state while it has to shell out $5,700 for each of the 900 or so students who attend charters.

"You can do the math," said Treasurer Daniel Bowman. "I don't care what anyone says, that is local property tax money going out that the community approved for a specific purpose and the legislature has decided to spend another way."

By Bowman's calculation, one-fourth of the Excellent-rated district's total state funding is used for fewer than 1,000 charter school students.

The picture is similar in North Olmsted, which drove school board member Terry Groden to testify in Columbus on behalf of Schiavoni's bill. Last school year, 133 students opted for charters. That was about 3 percent of the total enrollment, but they took almost 10 percent of the district's state aid with them, Groden said.

Forty-two of those students ended up returning to the district, which was rated Excellent on its last state report card.

"They came back from charter schools that were not rated at all or were rated lower than North Olmsted," Groden said. "I'm concerned with what we have to do, or undo, with these kids to get them back up to the level of performance we want to see and how that affects the children around them."

Expanding Ohio's failing charter school experiment further as HB136 would do would only serve to amplify these kinds of problems.

State Charter Law Punishes Ohio’s Largest Districts

The release of the latest school report card data is proving to be a fly in the ointment of a lot of people who were making hay running around claiming Ohio's education system was in crisis and required radical, extreme changes. Contrary to that misbegotten belief, Ohio's public schools are showing widespread improvements, even in large urban districts that have long suffered under Ohio's unfair funding model.

Policy Matters Ohio recently released the information below, on how the recent chart expansion law is going to further hinder this progress.

That progress is in stark contrast to the 2011 charter school report card, which continues to show terrible overall results, with only 1 in 5 charter schools rated as effective or better

Designation 2011 % of Charters 2010 % of Charters
Academic Emergency 20.9% 23.8%
Academic Watch 16.8% 16.6%
Continuous Improvement 28.9% 30.4%
Effective 11.8% 10.0%
Excellent 7.4% 8.5%
Excellent with Distinction 1.5% 0.3%
Not Rated 12.7% 10.3%

Charters versus Districts: CPE, a statewide group of education, parent and civic organizations was quoted in Gongwer

The coalition said report cards show that although strengthened accountability has led to improved performance for some charter schools, a significant drop-off exists on performance index scores between the highly rated charters and the majority of poorly performing ones.
About two dozen community schools performed well on the performance index, which is a weighted measure of individual student assessment scores. CPE said those schools deserve further examination, but overall charters fall short compared to district schools. Only 7% of charter schools would rate in the top half of traditional public schools on the performance index rankings.

"We are encouraged that legislative changes in charter school accountability over the past few years seem to be having a positive impact, but are concerned that loosening those measures - as was done this summer in House Bill 153- will cause these modest gains to be quickly lost," Ohio Parent Teacher Association President Gloria Cazan said.

"This improvement happened with better accountability standards implemented, not the hands-off approach lawmakers took in the first eight years of the charter school program."

When it comes to the poster child of the failed charter experiment, White Hat Management, this is the best they can say about themselves

"This year's academic data highlights the challenges faced by some of our schools," CEO Tom Barrett said. "We're focused on improvement and will redouble our efforts to improve the quality of instruction and outcomes for our students."

It's clearly time to reevaluate their continued provision of education in Ohio, especially in light of the continued improvement of Ohio's traditional schools and the negative impact failing charters are having on that improvement.

State Charter Law Punishes Ohio’s Largest Districts