District-charter school collaborations are the new buzz words. Like many slogans, it sounds reasonable on the surface. Twenty-one projects were launched by the U.S. Department of Education as an exemplary collaboration competition in 2012. An interim report by a Washington state based research institute reported, however, that only four of the 21 projects had even limited success. Now, the State of Florida is initiating its own project to entice high achieving charter management companies to collaborate with district schools in Florida.
In this post, we review the Center for Reinventing Public Education’s Interim Report District-Charter Collaboration Compact. What is supposed to be mutually beneficial? What do high quality charter management firms have to offer school districts?
‘High quality’ charter management companies are those that Florida hopes will open schools in major cities. Their approaches to teaching and learning are distinctive. Demographic and student retention data from these companies must be closely studied. We have found some interesting data.
The CRPE interim report listed the 21 funded collaboration projects across the nation. The collaboration included tradeoffs for districts and charters. Charters wanted access to public facilities and locally generated funding. Districts were offered more high performing charters, more transparency for charter records e.g. recruitment and retention data, sharing of best practices, and improved access for special education students at charter schools. Factors that limited project success were due to changes in leadership, local anti-charter politics, and lack of priority in time and attention to projects. Most cities were unable to continue momentum even one year into the project. Four cities did make progress: Denver charters developed a uniform student application, used public school facilities, and added charter special needs schools. New York charters provided more transparency on achievement, recruitment and retention data. They shared best practices and opened 26 new charters. Hartford made progress on equitable funding and teacher training. New Orleans achieved a universal enrollment system, more facilities, and more comprehensive achievement data.
Trying to ferret out which charter management companies are truly high achieving is somewhat difficult. The critical elements related to these ‘high quality’ firms are achievement gains that are significantly greater than in comparable public schools for students from low income minority families. Even though these gains are questioned due to admission and retention policies and charter school closure policies, according to the CREDO studies, the lowest achieving black students fare better in charters than in comparable public schools in large urban areas. Variability in achievement among charters is, unfortunately very high.
KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Yes Prep have all been identified as some of the high quality charter schools. Thus far, KIPP is the only one of these that has an elementary/middle school in Florida. This school receives strong financial support from Gary Chartrand’s, (Chair of Florida’s Board of Education), foundation. It is unclear why others have not opened charters in Florida. This may change when the grant announcements are made. According to an Education Week article, Miami-Dade has proposed a charter but the details have not been released. Duval County is proposing another KIPP school for children from low income families. The Hillsborough proposal focuses on overage middle school students. Exactly how the district and charter schools will collaborate is yet to be released, but the grants are expected to be $3 million each.
It is worth the time to consider how these more successful charters differ from other schools. A coalition of similarly minded charters formed a graduate degree program for their teachers called The Relay Graduate School. This is a time shortened degree program that emphasizes the nuts and bolts of a teaching methodology to train teachers. Grounding in educational theory is eschewed. Teachers whose students do not achieve a year’s worth of learning do not receive their degrees. Teachers are ‘schooled’ in a particular approach to educating students that uses a ‘flipped’ model in which students start with online instruction followed by drill and practice.
Descriptions of the schools mentioned in the Florida collaboration project include:
- The Yes Prep 6-12 schools based in Houston require rigorous course work, and an extended day and year. A Penn State University study reported a 40% retention rate for grades 8-11. Low scoring students leave more frequently. Students must take at least one AP course. While graduates do go to college, only 41% complete a degree program in 6 years.
- Uncommon Schools are non profits serving low income children in New York, New Jersey, Boston. They reportedly use a military style discipline and have high suspension rates.
- KIPP schools have longer school days and Saturday schools. They claim to enroll students similar to those in low income public school areas, and their attrition is similar. However lower achieving students do leave, and KIPP replaces fewer students in the last two years of middle school. Students who do replace those who leave tend to be higher achieving than those in public schools. KIPP schools are in session from &:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. They hold Saturday classes, require about two hours of homework, and have a 3 1/2 week summer session. They have strict discipline policies.
The message from these collaboration projects is mixed. Well run charter management firms can improve learning for some struggling students if they offer more instructional time and can concentrate on students who adapt to their methods. The same may be said for public schools, but what about everyone else?