Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Charter vs. Charter?

Specifically big vs. little.

For a number of years now, there's been a growing but little discussed tension between the big chains of charter schools like KIPP and the individual neighborhood charters. It was often the small schools with close ties to parents that the industry pointed to, but their political clout was generally negligible.

So it was pretty much inevitable that, at some point, the big players would start aggressively acquiring market share held by other charters just as they had been acquiring that held by vulnerable public schools. All of this brings us, perhaps unsurprisingly, to New Jersey:
The Christie administration quietly told two charter schools over the last month that they must close, one of them among the most established in Newark and the other a brand-new school in Camden.

The first to be signed by acting commissioner David Hespe, the decisions were not publicly announced, but came in letters to each of the schools as they were finishing up the year. The schools must close by the end of June.

In both cases, the shutdown orders were largely due to student test scores below those in the host district, even if for just one year, and the lack of necessary steps to improve them, according to the letters sent by Hespe.

For the Greater Newark Charter School, opened in 2000 and in its 14th year, it may not have been wholly unexpected as the school had been on probation and a decision on its charter’s five-year renewal was delayed since March.

The leader of the City Invincible Charter School in Camden said it came as more of a surprise, as the school was only in its second year.
If that 'second year' part seems odd, just wait...  It gets better. As the Vice President on the Board of Trustees for City Invincible Charter School.points out:
First, we must not overlook the simple fact that this decision came two days before the 2014 NJASK testing began. The State did not even bother to see if our students’ scores have improved. This decision is entirely based off of a single set of data that comes from a test administered seven months into our first year of operation.
I just think it reeks of politics that they have suddenly decided to close our school in the very same year KIPP, Mastery, and Uncommon schools are set to open. Because there’s a dearth of facilities in the city that can serve as schools, you shouldn’t be surprised to see one of their banners hanging over our doors come September.
I haven't run across Mastery that often, but KIPP and Uncommon have been on my radar for a while, particularly their share practice of pumping up their metrics by brutally dumping their most vulnerable students. From Nashville:
One of the first things a visitor sees when stepping into Kipp Academy is a graph that shows how Kipp is outperforming Metro schools in every subject.

However, Kipp Academy is also one of the leaders in another stat that is not something to crow about.

When it comes to the net loss of students this year, charter schools are the top eight losers of students.

In fact, the only schools that have net losses of 10 to 33 percent are charter schools.

"We look at that attrition. We keep an eye on it, and we actually think about how we can bring that back in line with where we've been historically," said Kipp Principal Randy Dowell.

Dowell said Kipp's 18 percent attrition is unacceptable.
As I pointed out earlier, Dowell is being stunningly dishonest here. You simply don't get this level of attrition unless the administration wants it. Uncommon has been caught using similar strategies:
Tops on the list: Roxbury Preparatory Charter, a college prep academy for 5th-8th graders that is part of the Uncommon Schools network and sent home an Uncommonly high 56% of its students in 2012.
As I've said before, there are some very good independent charters out there with innovative programs and strong neighborhood ties. I wish them the best, but I advise them to watch their backs.

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