Monday, October 23, 2006

Charter school growth after success in California?

Charter schools outperformed their traditional public school counterparts on standardized tests in 2006, and educators in charter and traditional schools are hoping they can use the results to improve education everywhere. Not only did charter schools outperform traditional schools, according to a report released earlier this month by the California Charter Schools Association, test scores among charter schools that have been in existence for five years or longer tend toward the top.

All such the "mature" charters in the county scored 800 or better out of a possible 1,000. "It's important to recognize which charter schools are mature, because we always say that it takes four or five years for a charter school to maximize its potential," said Caprice Young, California Charter Schools Association president. "And if you look at the data, you'll see that the mature charter schools are doing their job."

For San Joaquin County's 13 charter schools, the median score was 729, with nearly half of them scoring 800 or better. The goal for all California schools is 800, according to the California Department of Education. University Public School in Stockton, run by Aspire Charter Schools, scored 868 to lead the pack. San Joaquin's traditional public schools in 16 districts scored a median of 721, or eight points lower then the median of the charters, according to the Department of Education. Lodi Unified's Elkhorn Elementary School in north Stockton stood head and shoulders above charters and noncharters, with an API score of 989. Elkhorn is a Gifted and Talented Education program campus, however, where students must apply for acceptance.

Young attributes charter schools' higher test scores to their ability to be more innovative in teaching methods, she said, while traditional schools are mandated by state education officials to spend money only on state-approved curriculum and materials. Unlike private schools, charter schools must accept any interested student. If enrollment becomes competitive because of a limited number of seats, a public lottery must be conducted to fill them. "A charter does have flexibility, and it's held accountable for the results," Young said. "It's accountable, because there's always the threat that the charter can be shut down if you don't perform. The threat of closure leads to an increase of focus and accountability." Teachers at charter schools often are compensated based on their performance or their schools' performance. That trend is a stark contrast from traditional public schools, where tenure, experience and training are normal requirements for pay raises and job security.

Young suggests the success of charters has caught the eye of state education officials, and in San Joaquin County, many school superintendents agree. "Competition isn't always a bad thing," Lodi Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett said. "We could learn from each other. Some good, friendly competition can be good for the system." For Huyett and Lodi Unified, the relationship with several Aspire Charter Schools in north Stockton has created that feeling of friendly competition. Huyett has complimented Aspire consistently and has been a proponent of introducing some of the educational methods used by the charters in the traditional schools. "I think it would be good for the state to learn from charter schools," Huyett said of charter schools' freedom from many state regulations that strap traditional schools over curriculum and materials. "There could be some deregulation. The state can see that it's working for the charters, so why not make it available for everybody?"

Lodi Unified, for example, has started a process it calls the "cycle of inquiry." The cycle helps administrators and teachers identify students who are struggling in the classroom and in which areas of learning they are struggling. "We learned that from Aspire," Huyett said. "And we're also looking at going with smaller high school models, the way some charters do. We think they're onto something there."


Researchers Say Texas Inflates Graduation Rate

Texas grossly inflates its high school graduation numbers, masking critical dropout figures, according to studies to be presented Friday at a Rice University conference. Academicians from institutions including Rice, Harvard, Stanford and Johns Hopkins, as well as other experts in the field, say their goal is to bring clarity to the problem, explain the implications for the state and nation, and lay the groundwork for progress. Linda McNeil with Rice's Center for Education told KTRH News that problems can be seen in the numbers. "We starting noticing that the ninth grade population would be, very often, half of the student population — maybe 1,000 kids. And yet, these schools are graduating just 200 to 300 kids," McNeil said.

Many factors are responsible for the crisis, McNeil said, including an over-emphasis in the importance of test scores and rigid attendance policies, "which were meant to sort of create a more stable structure for their education ... really works against our poorest kids … who have, sort of, the most complicated responsibilities in their families." McNeil said the university is bringing education experts, superintendents, lawmakers and minority activists together at Rice to address the wide gap between the dropout numbers they've found and what the Texas Education Agency reports. The state's official graduation rate hovers around 85 percent, but the researchers note less than three in five black and Hispanic students achieve diplomas in Texas.

Chris Swanson, director of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, was part of the four-year research project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The research found Texas' graduation rate to be 66.8 percent — much lower than the 84.2 percent the state reports — and Swanson said, “The graduation crisis is much more urgent than we might understand just based on what the TEA presents.” He noted that the Lone Star state isn't the only one that exaggerates its numbers. Swanson's numbers are almost identical to what other independent researchers have found using various methodologies, the speakers said. Swanson used enrollment-based estimates; others have looked at individual student records and unduplicated data from the state. Further, Swanson pointed out that the inflation increases in larger districts. Dallas has a 46 percent graduation rate, his study found, not the state's figure of 81 percent. The inflation was also more prominent when looking at minority and poor students.

Part of the disparity lies in the differing definitions for a "dropout." The state figures mentioned, from the 2002-2003 school year, do not count as dropouts students who have enrolled in a GED program, who have passed coursework but not the required state test, who transferred to another Texas public school but never showed up for class, or who are missing.

The state will begin including the first three of those categories in its calculations, starting this school year — but not because it found fault with its previous method, a spokesperson said, but rather to align it with the definitions used by the federal No Child Left Behind law and National Center for Education Statistics.

Texas is one of the few states to have a system that tracks individual students, a resource many other states want to emulate. “The lesson for Texas is that it doesn't matter how good the data collection is. If you're not reporting in an accurate, transparent way, you wind up with very misleading information,'' said Dan Losen, a senior education law and policy associate with Harvard's Civil Rights Project.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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