by Max Brantley
A number of correspondents have written to call attention to a short followup story in the Democrat-Gazette (pay wall) today that gives a full recitation of how Arkansas charter schools fared in meeting standards on state benchmark tests. This followed a much longer story a few days ago that focused mostly on the number of schools failing to meet standards among the state's largest conventional public school districts.
* Four Little Rock charter schools — Dreamland Academy, Covenant Keepers Charter, Covenant Keepers Charter High, and Little Rock Preparatory Academy — have gone two years without meeting standards and are classified as needing improvement.
* 12 of the 16 other charter schools were on alert status in the latest report because they missed sufficient scores in one of the various categories that are measured — math, literacy, poor students, special ed students, black students, Hispanic students and so on. Those on alert include two of the three e-Stem schools in Little Rock; the LISA Middle School; the Arkansas Virtual Academy (home schoolers), and, by my reading of the spread sheet (though not the D-G's) (statewide results here), also one of the KIPP schools in Helena-West Helena. A check mark on the spread sheet represents that a district fell short of sufficiency in the particular category. At the KIPP Delta Public School, a check appears in the combined student population's literacy performance and I believe the "A" rating for that school signifies on "alert".
* Bottom line: 16 of 20 charter schools failed to attain sufficiency in all areas and were at least on alert.
There's little to cheer about here, though I understand why beleaguered public school supporters take some satisfaction in seeing charter schools rowing the same boat, given the derision they regularly endure from charter backers. But it would be terribly unfair to take a page from charter school lobbyist Luke Gordy's book and issue a hyperbolic screed about the waste of public dollars on charter schools, as he did against the Little Rock public schools.
It's difficult to form definitive themes from these particular findings. Fort Smith Superintendent Benny Gooden said it right in the original D-G story. No Child Left Behind standards are doomed to fail. The sufficiency score rises each year until every school — in every subcategory — is expected to demonstrate sufficiency. The world is not Garrison Keilor's mythical Lake Wobegon, where every child is above average. Some people just don't get math, for example, no matter how good the teacher and how innovative the school.
Some schools do great, but miss in a narrow subcategory. Some districts have an uncommon number of special ed kids (particularly those big, bad urban districts with their extensive offerings for special ed kids); some schools get too few to meet the minimum for measure, so don't get marked insufficient, even though the one or two special ed kids they do enroll might not demonstrate sufficient scores. Some districts have an uncommon number of kids in poverty; some don't. Poor kids aren't impossible to teach, but the record shows they present much greater difficulties.
It is worth noting schools that defy expectations based on demographics. KIPP schools, for example, generally do quite well working almost exclusively with poor minority kids. But if you want to be a slave to standardized testing, one of its schools did not meet sufficiency standards in the most recent year measured. I don't buy it and suspect, checkmark or not, most would be happy with results at KIPP.
I've suggested — only half in jest — that the state and others NOT seek waivers from the NCLB standards. Let's have the whole country proceed to the logical conclusion of NCLB. It would be a national system of public schools that are ALL judged failures by average scores on standardized tests. This won't illustrate the failures of public education to me, but the failure of arbitrary, faith-based "reform" gimmicks and test slavery.
Good teachers, well-trained and well-paid, and good principals, who demand good workers, are the bedrocks of good schools. But even their ability to work miracles is constrained, if not necessarily doomed, by what happens at home. Don't you wish we could wave a magic wand that required every parent to read to his or her child every night? That each parent was able to get a kid to school on time each day, healthy and nutritionally fed and his school obligations done?
SPEAKING OF CHARTER SCHOOLS: Here's a handy recitation of the numerous studies, many funded by charter supporters, that have shown little difference in results when comparing charter schools with conventional public schools.
On the jump is the state Education Department's summary of the scores and a statement from spokesman Seth Blomelely:
The 2011 adequate yearly progress calculations show that:
335 schools are classified as Achieving
256 schools are classified as Alert
71 schools are classified as "Targeted Improvement Schools"
224 schools are classified as "Whole School Improvement Schools"
16 schools are classified as "Targeted Intensive Improvement Schools"
66 schools are classified as "Whole School Intensive Improvement Schools"
103 schools are classified as "State Directed" schools
The summary for districts 2011 is:
168 districts Meet Standards
1 district in School Improvement, Meets Standards
58 districts are in Alert
14 districts is in District Improvement Year 1
4 districts are in District Improvement Year 2
9 districts is in District Improvement Year 3
2 districts is in District Improvement Year 4
1 district is in District Improvement Year 5
The latest AYP results are an example of why No Child Left Behind needs changing. It's natural that the rate of continued growth slows the higher students score each year. Under the current bars for Annual Yearly Progress, it wouldn't be uncommon for schools to improve from one year to the next but still drop in their rankings because they didn't improve enough.
Or, schools could drop because one subpopulation of students failed to meet AYP even though the majority of subpopulations made AYP.
This unfairly labels schools which may in fact be very good places to learn.
This is precisely why we're excited about the flexibility under NCLB being offered by the US Department of Education.
We're looking forward toward crafting plans with realistic but rigorous achievement targets that also focus on how to offer more help to struggling students. We encourage those interested in the NCLB waivers to attend five regional meetings over the next several weeks sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Education and offer input as we develop a plan best for Arkansas students.