A Twin Study in Broward

by Margery Marcus, LWV of Broward

ft lauderdaleMargery’s compares two schools located across the street from one another, Pinewood traditional elementary and North Broward Academy charter school.  Pinewood used to earn a ‘B’ school grade.  The schools could be fraternal twins, but now one earned a ‘D’ and the other an ‘A’.  I was intrigued.  So, I went back through the data for the last three years to see if there were changes in the schools over time.  There were.

  • For two of the years, Pinewood had twenty percent fewer students proficient on the kindergarten readiness test than North Broward (74%-92%).  In 2012-13, there was a 40% difference. Clearly, North Broward has attracted better prepared students.
  • Broward’s district achievement levels are nearly identical from one year to the next.  However,  Pinewood’s FCAT proficiency levels go down somewhat over time, especially in third grade, and North Broward’s go up.
  • Pinewood’s staff is stable; they had 16% new teachers compared to 43% new teachers at North Broward.  They were not likely to become less effective in three years.  Yet, school grades kept declining.
  • Pinewood lost 100 of its 716 students in three years.  North Broward gained fifty students (683) over the same period.
  • The mix of students also changed.  Pinewood gradually increased its percentage of economically disadvantaged students to 80% in 2014 compared to 75% at North Broward.

Margery states that CSUSA is doing something right.  What do you think it may be?  Numbers do not always tell the whole story.

Behind the Numbers at Broward’s Charter Schools USA

by Margery Marcus, LWV Broward

In Broward, relationships with Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) are different than they are in Palm Beach. While the Palm Beach School Board is embroiled in a court battle with CSUSA over expansion, the Broward School Board granted the company five new charters for next year. That brings the number of schools they will operate in Broward to 13, close to 11% of all district charters.

The popularity of their schools with the public is not debatable. When the company announced this spring that a new school, Renaissance Charter School in Sunrise, would open in August, they received 715 enrollment applications even before the school had received its zoning permit.

Of the eight schools they currently operate in Broward, all follow the K-8 model except for Coral Springs Charter, a grades 6-12 school. Total enrollment in CSUSA schools here is about 10,000.

Putting aside the hyperbolic language of their promotional materials, CSUSA is doing something right. In 2014, six out of their eight Broward schools earned an “A,” the seventh a “B,” and their newest school just opened this past year. Two of their three K-8 Title I schools earned an “A.” (The third is the newest school awaiting a grade.)

CSUSA’s “A”-rated” K-8 school, North Broward Academy of Excellence (NBAE), sits a few hundred yards from Pre-K-5 Pinewood Elementary, a “D” rated traditional school.   Minority enrollment at both Title I schools is about 95%; the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in Grades K-5 at the charter is 75, while Pinewood’s percentage is 83 (FL DOE October Membership Reports).

The numbers begin to diverge even more dramatically, however, when you look at specific student populations. Pinewood’s enrollment of disabled students is three times that of NBAE and its English Language Learners (ELL) numbers are more than twice the charter’s.

When asked where student applicants live, the NBAE principal explained that they come from a radius of 20 to 30 miles, not necessarily from the immediate neighborhood. Acceptance is by lottery, as it is all of Broward’s charters, and open to all students in the district.

(Note: while it is impossible to cite cause and effect, in the eight years the two schools have been neighbors, Pinewood’s state grade has gone steadily downward from an “A” in 2008 to “D’s” in 2013 and 2014 (Sun-Sentinel Florida School Grades 2014).

An analysis of data between another one of CSUSA’s Title I schools, Renaissance Charter at University, and nearby Tamarac Elementary, a “B”-rated traditional school, shows similarities until you look at their special populations. The ELL population at both schools are nearly identical; the largest difference comes in the disabled populations. Tamarac enrolls twice the percentage than the charter (FL DOE October Membership Reports).

No one can disagree that schools with higher special populations make teaching more challenging. But, it is too easy to dismiss the success of the CSUSA charters to student demographics alone, keeping in mind the schools’ large economically disadvantaged numbers.

If you ask a CSUSA principal the reason for the company’s success, you will get answers like “rigorous data analysis and data driven decision making, in-depth professional development, and focused lesson planning and delivery.”

Another likely explanation of CSUSA’s success is the idea of parent choice and involvement. With no transportation provided at charters here, parents sending their children to one are signing up for daily drop offs and pickups, not to mention serving 20 or more volunteer hours.

High parent satisfaction rates at all the CSUSA schools may point to a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Parents who choose their school want to be satisfied with it to justify their choice. Motivated parents may result in more motivated … and higher performing students.

In any event and for many reasons, CSUSA schools in Broward provide stiff competition for the district’s traditional schools.

Posted in Achievement, Charter School Management, Charter Schools, Florida, Public Education.

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