Monday, March 05, 2012

Are charter schools cherry-picking their students?

chartersThis from the Connecticut Mirror:
As students from the highly regarded Jumoke Academy Charter School filed into the gymnasium for a mid-afternoon assembly last week, onlooker Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pointed out that at first glance these students seem to mirror those attending the neighborhood public schools.

"Look around," he said, fielding questions about whether this school is teaching the same type of students who attend Hartford public schools.
But enrollment numbers tell a different story.

Just one of the 432 students who attended Jumoke last school year spoke limited English, while in other schools in Hartford, 18 percent spoke limited English.

Likewise, 4 percent of Jumoke students require special education compared with 15 percent in Hartford.
Jumoke's lack of diversity is not unique among the state's 17 charter schools. An analysis of their enrollment by The Connecticut Mirror shows that students who speak limited English or have special education needs have been largely left out of most of the state's charters.

Public schools serve twice the percentage of limited-English students in the districts where 12 of the 17 charter schools are located, the data show. No charter in the state has a higher percentage of ELL students than their local district, and only four enroll more special education students.

This reality has fueled fierce responses from public school principals, superintendents and teachers unions when asked why they aren't achieving the same success as their neighboring charters are...


Richard Innes said...


Just to throw some alternative interpretations out there, it might be possible that traditional public schools in Connecticut over-identify learning disabled students while charter schools know many of their similar children can be educated without labeling. I’m not sure how to determine if this is actually the case, but it is interesting to contemplate.

Certainly, there are plenty of people around who think public schools over-identify learning disabled students. Labeling kids as learning disabled can be an easy way around having to admit your staff members don’t know how to teach kids who need different approaches.

Schools get more money for labeled students, too.

I also wonder about the ELL identification rates in this article. The 2011 NAEP Reading Report Card shows that across Connecticut, the ELL percentage in fourth grade was only 6 percent, and it was only 4 percent in grade 8. Connecticut’s cities could collect larger proportions of these students, of course, but the differences between the state-wide and city figures are large enough to warrant curiosity.

Also, if the ELL students are concentrated in sections of the cities other than where the charters are located, simple geographic issues may contribute to low numbers of ELL in the charters.

I wish I knew more.

Richard Day said...

When I asked the Patton administration to allow me to convert Cassidy into a charter school in the late 90s, I was confident that we would compete more successfully if we could avoid putting so much of our energy into implementing the primary program (which any credible school administrator could see was going nowhere) while continuing to focus on better teaching and closing achievement gaps. The biggest problem wasn’t school improvement. Our data was trending in the right direction. The problem was that for every effort we undertook to improve learning for our inner-city blacks, our suburban whites grew even more, expanding the gap. My biggest worry was how to effectively serve low incidence populations in a charter setting.
This was especially true for special education students.

Surely, charter school principals know all of this. If they are approached by the parent of a special needs child, honest practice demands that they acknowledge the absence of specially designed instruction if it does not exist in the school.
Parents, who consider charters as an option, are then forced to consider the impact of trading in services for their child, against a change of scene - a “sink or swim” type decision. The evidence suggests that a substantial percentage of those parents likely chose to stay in the traditional public schools – and the data certainly supports that conclusion over any broad searching counter-explanations.

I realize that you were just spit-ballin' here, but I suspect that knowledge is behind your reluctance.

I think it’s much more likely that the charter schools “similar” students are similar because they do not require specialized instruction in order to obtain the curriculum, which is what the data suggest.

The suggestion that charter school folks are more knowledgeable about how to identify special needs students is really pretty silly. Many of these new school leaders are relatively unschooled in special education law themselves. And absent available services, why would they be?

If Connecticut’s ELL students are concentrated in sections of the cities other than where the charters are – then perhaps the charters are in the wrong places. The idea after all, is that charters will outperform traditional public schools in the toughest circumstances. Yet the data from Connecticut suggests that it doesn’t quite work out that way.

Sometimes the data don’t lie. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

I can understand the desire of pro-charter forces to spin this data in some direction other than the obvious – but this charter supporter believes that it would be much better for kids if the adults wouldn’t do that.