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How Are Atlanta´s Charter Schools Performing?

Drew Charter School ranks highest in APS

Charter schools — which are publicly funded, privately operated, and accept public school students — have gotten a lot of attention in the past several years.  

Two popular, pro-charter documentaries, Waiting for Superman and The Lottery, profiled families who hoped to be accepted to local charter schools. In New York City, the NAACP and the teacher´s union sued to prevent charter schools from sharing buildings with traditional public schools, and last summer, David Brooks used his NYT Column to highlight some of the central issues in the pro-charter and anti-charter debate.

So with all this fuss, how are Atlanta Public Schools´ charters actually faring?  The answer depends on the school.

By their very nature, charter schools are a diverse bunch.  While school districts and states provide curriculums and heavier oversight to traditional public schools, charter schools are free to develop their own approaches.  As you might imagine, some of these approaches work well and others don´t.

Within the Atlanta Public Schools system, ten charter schools operated at the elementary level.  (I considered any school which served grades 3, 4, or 5 to be operating an elementary school even though the KIPP Academies begin in grade 5).  Based on Metro Atlanta 2011 Elementary School Ratings five of the schools received an "A" or a "B," while 5 of the schools received a "C" or a "D."  The full results are presented in the attached table. 

Let´s take acloser look at some individual performances.  Since the state of Georgia has set very low standards for "meeting grade level," the measure is virtually meaningless.  A more informative measure is the percentage of students "exceeding grade level," and that is what I will focus on. 

Charles R. Drew Charter School ("A" - High Performer)

Needs (High): 74% of the school´s students are economically disadvantaged.  95% are Black or Hispanic. 1% are English language learners, and 8% are students with disabilities.

Percent of 5th Graders Exceeding Math Grade Level: 54%

These are impressive results, espescially when you consider the community that the Drew Charter School serves.  Intown Chareter Academy also served a high needs community, but it´s results are not as impressive.

Intown Charter Academy ("D" - Low Performer)

Needs (High):  78% of the school´s students are economically disadvantaged.  96% are Black or Hispanic. 2% are English language learners, and 4% are students with disabilities. 

Percent of 5th Graders Exceeding Math Grade Level: 9%

So, very few of Intown´s students are exceeding grade level.  Now let´s take a look at a charter school which serves a low-needs community.  

Neighborhood Charter School ("C" - Average Performer)

Needs (Low): 13% of the school´s students are economically disadvantaged.  22% are Black or Hispanic.  0% are English language learners, and 9% are students with disabilities.

Percent of 5th Graders Exceeding Math Grade Level: 62%

At first glance, the fact that 62% of students are exceeding grade level seems impressive.  But you have to remember that the needs of students at Neighborhood Charter school are low compared to the state average.  For example, only 13% of students are economically disadvantaged.  As such, it´s really only fair to compare the school to peer traditional schools like Morningside, Springdale Park, and Mary Lin.  Here are the percent of those school´s students exceeding grade level:

Morningside: 91%

Springdale Park: 71%

Mary Lin:75%

I'm certainly not suggesting that Neighborhood Charter School is performing horribly.  But it also doesn't appear that the school is providing a better education than similar traditional public schools. In fact, it is performing slightly worse than its peer schools nearby.   

For more Metro Atlanta school analysis, visit gradingatlanta.tumblr.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jarod Apperson June 06, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Hey Andrea. Thanks for commenting. I certainly agree with you that biracial students contribute to diversity, and a high population of biracial kids does in fact increase the measure of a school´s diversity in my review. The explanation is quite technical, but I will try to explain it as best I can. The measure of diversity that I have used considers the percentile rank within each ethnicity compared to other schools in the state. That is different from just summing the percentages. Let´s take for example two imaginary schools: one has 100% white students. The other has 60% white students and 40% biracial students. The school with 100% white students would be rated as having low diversity because it is at the extreme end of schools within the state. However, the school with 60% white students and 40% biracial students would rate higher for diversity because its percentage of white students is closer to the state average. The needs index is completely separate from diversity. 30% is made up of economic disadvantage. 30% is made up of special education. 30% is made up of percentage of Black/Hispanic. 10% is made up of English Language Learners. Diversity does not impact the Academic Rating. 60% of the Academic rating is based on a comparison to schools with the same needs index. 40% of the Academic rating is based on a comparison to all state schools. I hope this is helpful.
Jarod Apperson June 06, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Andrea, I ran out of space on the previous post, but what I´ll also try to do is expand the methodology I posted with an example school, walking through each step. I think that will help. There are lot´s of methodologies one could use, and in the end you may decide that you disagree with mine, but I want to make sure that it is at least clear because, though certainly imperfect, I believe it has merit.
Jarod Apperson June 06, 2012 at 07:03 PM
I´m working on a better methodology explanation now...will hopefully be able to post it soon. In this post, I only mentioned the Math grades because it gets confusing if every school has grades on 5 different subjects. In making the rankings, I did consider performance on all CRCT tests for grades 3 through 5. Once I get this enchanced methodology up, I think that will be easier to see. The reason I chose to develop a needs index is because I think you have to give schools credit for working with higher needs populations. I haven´t seen a needs index before for Georgia schools, so I used the methodology that the NYC Department of Education developed. They generate these rankings for their schools each year. Certainly there are many high-performing Black and Hispanic kids, that´s why it´s only one factor. Ideally, we could consider parental education, income, etc., but the only economic factor reported is free/reduced lunch. I don´t mean to be harsh on Neighborhood Charter School. I know people involved with the school, and they are not at all far behind the schools I mentioned as peers. At the same time, they´re not outperforming like KIPP and Drew. If one of the goals of charter schools is to be innovation centers, finding unique approaches that other schools can implement, it seems KIPP and Drew may be ahead on that front. My intention is to give them credit, not to knock Neighborhood.
LVR June 06, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Jarod – While ANCS values standardized test results, it is not at the center of the focus of the school. ANCS is a constructivist school and as such, believes children learn more when they follow their interests. Consequently, ANCS doesn’t drill with practice CRCT questions or even post the scores anywhere inside the school. It simply isn’t a part of the school’s culture. ANCS is proud of its accomplishments. The school is getting noticed for what happens inside the classroom. ANCS has a wait list at every grade level and it draws many students from schools with higher CRCT scores. Also, I disagree with your assessment of calling a school in a neighborhood like Morningside ANCS's "peer." As you note, the economic data released is limited.
Jarod Apperson June 06, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Hi Andrea, just put up the more detailed methodology. https://www.dropbox.com/s/ueofl1dj57ezkg4/School%20Ranking%20Methodology.pdf LVR, I appreciate that ANCS is focused on a different approach to learning. I do not think that test scores should be the only factor people consider. Parents should make their own decisions about whether they believe test scores have any relevance at all. Many think test scores have no relevance. My analysis is one look at school quality based on test scores. It is not a recommendation that people pull out of schools not receiving an "A." It is NOT a final verdict on school quality, and I do not intend to disparage ANCS. What I am trying to do is provide some useful information comparing 500 different schools in the metro area, giving consideration to the fact that some schools serve high-needs students.
Alice Jonsson June 06, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Here are the things that are important to me in a school: I want a safe, positive, warm, intimate environment. I want children and families to be treated with respect and dignity. I want the educators to be supported and respected, yet challenged. I want administrators who bring innovation into the classroom. I want for there to be an organic flow to the school day, to their learning. They should be inspired to solve mentally challenging puzzles because it feels incredible to do so – not forced to learn and achieve high scores or else. I want my son to learn to collaborate with others. Above all, I want my child's curiosity about the magic of the world stoked. The institutional obsession with test scores just isn’t for my family.
JR Garcia June 07, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Jarod -- Are you familiar with Atlanta's intown neighborhoods and schools? Have you actually visited the schools you mention in your Opinion / Local Voices blog post? You say "But it also doesn't appear that the school is providing a better education than similar traditional public schools. In fact, it is performing slightly worse than its peer schools nearby." WHICH nearby peer schools are you referring to? Are you referring to Parkside, Whitefoord, Toomer, D.H. Stanton, Benteen, Dunbar, Burgess Peterson Academy - all fellow Jackson High cluster elementary schools. I will add that it's very easy to slant your 'results' (almost said desired) by picking and choosing only one year of one subject of standardized testing. I mean, would you choose a school for your children based on the 5th grade Math CRCT score, only? Truly seems short-sided and slanted in the context of factual research, IMO. You go on to say: "So with all this fuss, how are Atlanta Public Schools´ charters actually faring? The answer depends on the school." Guess, the answer depends on the grade and subject chosen to highlight - wouldn't you agree?
Jarod Apperson June 07, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Hi Andrea, I think that is a great suggestion for an analysis. I will try to work on something like that and put it up. I am also going to put up an article tomorrow morning explaining in more detail why I believe it´s important to rely on the "exceeds" measure.
Don't Poke The Wolf June 07, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Jarod, Statistics can be deceiving. What are your thoughts on this one? GDOE CRCT Auditors have reported for 2011 that: Drew - 12.5% of classes have questionable erasure rates or 7 classrooms, among the highest in APS, in the Moderate Concern range of 11%-24%. Mary Lin - 10.3% of classes have questionable erasure rates, in the Minnimal Concern range. Morningside - 4.3% of classes have questionable erasure rates, in the Minimal Concern range. ANCS - 0% OF CLASSES HAVE QUESTIONABLE ERASURE RATES!!!!!!!! What should we deduce from these numbers? Some might say there is a possible integrity issue with the 2011 CRCT results from Drew, Lin and Morningside. The State reports, that a high number of erasures are not evidence of cheating, but a guide for further examination. Hmmmmmm How does this statistic impact your ranking? I would think it would be important since the basis of your ranking is one test score.
Jarod Apperson June 07, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Andrea, I put up the article on meets vs. exceeds. You can check it out here. http://gradingatlanta.tumblr.com/post/24604591589/georgia-setting-sights-too-low Here is the site with all the data files I used in my analysis. Using this, you can play around with the "meets" and "exceeds" metrics with a different formula that you consider more reflective. http://reportcard2011.gaosa.org/(S(i04gxtjluw0nyxyucmy2e155))/k12/cDLS5.aspx?TestType=Comparisons
Jarod Apperson June 11, 2012 at 01:43 PM
I took a more in-depth look at ANCS performance on the 2011 CRCT that some of you might find interesting. This includes the comparison by each grade and subject you were interested in Andrea. http://gradingatlanta.tumblr.com/post/24879827790/neighborhood-charter-school-performance

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