I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Patterns of Reforminess

The very reformy Deborah Kenny wants you to know that her charter schools are totally awesome simply because... well, they're just awesome, OK?
Critics claim that charter schools are successful only because they cherry-pick students, because they have smaller class sizes, or because motivated parents apply for charter lotteries and non-motivated parents do not. And even if charters are successful, they argue, there is no way to scale that success to reform a large district.

None of that is true. Charters succeed because of their two defining characteristics—accountability and freedom. In exchange for being held accountable for student achievement results, charter schools are generally free from bureaucratic and union rules that prevent principals from hiring, firing or evaluating their own teams.
Oh, snap! All you haters can just step off, 'cause Kenny's bringing the accountability and freedom! Her schools are the awesomest!

Er, right?

On their homepage, Harlem Village Academy shares their results, which include #1 school in Harlem for 8th grade reading and math, with 100% proficient in math for three straight years.  They also have a near perfect New York Regents passing rate.
Throughout the years, though, this school has been criticized for its high attrition rate of both students and teachers.  Two good posts from about two years ago are here and here.  With the release of the new book, I thought I’d check the most recent 2010-2011 data to see what is happening there.
I downloaded the recent state and city report cards from here and also the state report cards for New York City district 5 here, and found some interesting information.
In 2010-2011, HVA had 55% free lunch and 13% reduced lunch.  The district, that year, had 74% free with 5% reduced.
In 2010-2011, HVA had 3% LEP vs. 11% for the whole district.
In 2010-2011 38% of the students at HVA were suspended for at least one day while 7% were suspended for the whole district.
Student attrition at HVA is huge.  For example, the 66 5th graders in 2007-2008 have shrunk to just 16 9th graders in the 2010-2011 school year.  This is a 75% attrition.  In that same time, the district that the school is in went from 904 5th graders in 2007-2008 to 1313 9th graders in 2010-2011.  That is a 45% growth.
Though these are different cohorts, the graph below from The Charter Center show HVA’s enrollment by grade for 2010-2011.  This is not what this graph would look like in a regular school.
As far as their achievement, it is true that the students had a high passing rate on their state tests, particularly in math.  But when I looked at their Regents grades, I noticed that, according to their state report card, no students took the Geometry or the Algebra II / Trigonometry Regents.  So their 100% passing rate seems to come from all their students, through 12th grade, only taking the 9th grade level Algebra Regents.  When I asked the school, though a mutual acquaintance, why this was, they wrote back that the state didn’t include all the data and they actually had 90 students take Geometry (nothing about Algebra II), and that 82% passed.  But since they only had 80 students who could feasibly qualify to take that test, this seems unlikely.  I currently have a data request into the NYC DOE to clear this up, so I will update if I get new information.
When a school is truly great, teachers want to keep teaching there year after year.  So it should be telling that in this school over the past three years the amount of staff turnover was 2007-2008 53%, for 2008-2009, 38%, and for 2009-2010, a whopping 61%.  By comparison, the teacher attrition for the entire district in 2009-2010 was just 19%.
Read the rest for the whole sordid tale. And don't pretend like you're surprised, because...

- Steve Perry blames the teachers unions for low student achievement, but his magnet school has a different student population than the neighboring public schools.

- Ben Chavis blames the teachers unions for low student achievement, but his charter schools have different student populations than they did prior to his arrival.

- Juan Williams blames the teacher unions for low student achievement, but the charter school he touted in a bit of propaganda masquerading as journalism has a different student population than the neighboring public schools.

- Shelley Skinner of B4K blamed labor agreements for low student achievement, but her charter school has a different student population than the neighboring public schools.

- Kathy Mone said her charter got great results even thought it "took the most difficult cases," but her charter schools has a different student population than the neighboring public schools.

- Bergen Arts & Sciences Charter School touts its "data driven" approach, but has a different student population than the neighboring public schools.

New Orleans.

New York.


- HCZ.

Over and over and over again, we keep running into the same problem: the "successful" reformy schools either had different student populations to begin with, or changed their student populations to create "success."

Gosh, is anyone else seeing a pattern here?

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