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:
Springdale Park: 71%
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