Monday, September 2, 2013

Urban Charters Don't Resemble Urban Districts

After I read the Columbus Dispatch story that laid out just how much Ohio's Charter School experiment had failed, especially in relation to solving any urban education issues, I decided to look closer at this question: Are Charters really comparable to Big 8 urban buildings? The most basic question I could think to ask was, "How many kids from the Big 8 schools actually make up the populations of Big 8 Charters?"

One would think that the Charters in the Big 8 take nearly all their kids from Big 8 districts, right? That was the point, after all, to give kids in urban districts the opportunity to "escape" those urban districts, right? Well, that's actually wrong. Charters located in Big 8 districts take substantial numbers of children from surrounding districts, including high-performing suburban districts.

Looking at finalized Ohio Department of Education data from the 2011-2012 school year (the same set I used to look at how much money is sent from higher performing districts to poorer performing Charters earlier this year), it reveals that of the Charter Schools that took any child in 2011-2012 from a Big 8 urban district (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown), only 125 took 90% or more of their kids from those Big 8 districts. Even among Charters that took at least 10% of their kids from a Big 8 district, less than half (48%) took 90% or more of their kids from the Big 8 district.

I was frankly stunned by these results. Even some of the highest performing Charter Schools in the state take a relatively small percentage of kids from the Big 8 district in which they reside.

For example, Columbus Preparatory Academy, which routinely ranks high on accountability measures, only took 49% of their children from Columbus City Schools. The school took about 42% from South-Western, another 5% from Hilliard and kids from Bexley, Dublin, Olentangy and Westerville. So is it fair to hold up Columbus Prep's performance and compare it with Columbus City's?

Other examples are the ISUS academies in Dayton, which tend to perform very well compared with Dayton. They took between 70% and 75% of their children from Dayton. They took a good portion of children from suburban Huber Heights and Kettering. So is it fair to compare ISUS' performance with that of Dayton when 1 in 4 kids don't come from Dayton? Yet their performance always is compared with Dayton.

And here's another thing: There were 355 Ohio Charter Schools in 2011-2012. If only 125 of them take more than 90% of their children from Big 8 Districts, is it fair to compare their overall performance with Big 8 Districts' performance, as the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools and others insist? I mean, barely 35% of Charter Schools took 90% of their kids from Big 8 urban districts, yet these advocates insist that Ohio's Charter School performance be compared with Big 8 urban districts'.

Hardly seems fair to me.

Oh, and one other thing: Nearly 58,000 of the 108,000 children in Charter Schools during the 2011-2012 school year came from Big 8 urban districts. That means a little more than 53% of Charter School children came from Big 8 districts in that year, and, importantly, 47% did not. Last school year, the percentage was almost exactly the same.

Is it fair to compare Charter School performance with Big 8 performance when nearly 1/2 of children in Charter Schools come from districts other than Big 8 districts and when barely 35% of Charters take more than 90% of their children from Big 8 urban districts?

This sheds additional light on the Dispatch story from over the weekend. The Dispatch was comparing Big 8 performance with Charters that are located in the counties in which Big 8 districts are located. And the Dispatch found the Charter performance wanting. Given how only a fraction of the Charters the Dispatch examined had more than 90% of their kids coming from Big 8 districts, how poorly did the Charters really perform compared with their traditional public school counterparts?