Sunday, April 12, 2015

NY: How Charters Game the System

Democracy Builders is a New York group whose goal is "to increase quality public school choice by recruiting, engaging and activating authentic parent voices." Their big motto is "Choice + Voice" and they are also the group that confirms several of my expectations about the charter sector.

1) As competition increases in hot charter markets, and charters have to compete with each other and not just the public system, the knives will come out.

2) People who want to run charters the right way for the right reasons will eventually become openly upset with the profiteers who have invaded the charter biz.

Democracy Builders chief Princess Lyles and Dan Clark wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal back in February calling out the practice of not back-filling seats. Their position is the position that would, to me, make sense if you were a charter operator who really believed that you had something valuable to offer-- "One seat left open is one seat to many" and every "precious seat" that opens up in a charter should be filled immediately.

Refusing to backfill seats works two ways. It can mean leaving a seat open if a student leaves during the year, but it can also mean refusing to fill an empty seat in a cohort-- if you don't get on the charter bus in grade three, then you can never get on it.

Democracy Builders has collected the data and make the charts to show how these practices let charters fake success. (Note: I couldn't get these to display properly on anything except a tablet).

The principle is simple-- as you push more and more students out the door, the number of proficient individuals you need to get your percentage up decreases. So, for instance, KIPP New York tested  around 88 third graders, 41 of whom were proficient. By eighth grade, KIPP is testing 61 students, of whom 45 are proficient. That's a growth of 47% up to 74%-- based on only four more students testing well.

Democracy Builders' independent charter category shows schools that are trying to keep seats filled and are paying the price for it in their numbers. Achievement First seems to do a better job of keeping empty seats filled.

But per the data here, the absolute queen of using empty seats to make herself look good is (surprise) Eva Moskowitz. Success Academy posts awesome numbers by percent, growing from 91% proficiency in third grade and growing to whopping 97% in eighth grade. But in raw numbers, that represents an astonishing drop from an average number of students who were actually proficient-- 88 in third grade and 31 in eighth grade. The grades in between show an steady and consistent drop. No other NY charter has enrollment that simply drops off a cliff like SA.

Lyles point is pretty clear. If charters want to call themselves public schools, they can start by following a basic rule of public schools and take in every student who shows up at their doors.

Why don't they? Because they don't want to hurt their numbers, because for charter profiteers students exist only to generate the kinds of numbers that keep the dollars flowing.

The interactive charts are rich and deep and well worth your time and examination. They are also an excellent reminder that public schools are not the only system suffering under the test-and-punish theory of education. The charter system, which really could be a rich and worthwhile addition to the public education scene, is also completely bent out of shape by an accountability system that holds schools accountable for all the wrong things and none of the right things.

Look. Success Academy is a charter system that should be closed down for fraud. It is a system based on doing absolutely everything wrong, from oppressive rules to manic focus on test scores instead of actual education, on top of pushing students out the door if they won't toe the line and help the shcool make the numbers that is uses to keep the money flowing.

But under our completely upside down and inside out accountability system, Success Academies look good. And they don't just suck the money and resources out of the public school system-- they make it that much less likely that a decent and worthwhile charter school could spring up in New York.

Go look at this data-- keeping in mind that it was all put together by charter school advocates, not opponents-- and let it sink in just how screwed up the system has become, to the point that the only path to "success" is to lie, cook books, and abandon the true mission of public education.

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