New charter school report: Success or failure set by year three

Interesting study on charter school successes and failures:

A new report by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that charter schools, as they age or replicate into networks, are very likely to continue the patterns and performance set by their early years of operation, and that for most charter schools their ultimate success or failure can be predicted by year three of a school’s life.

“This report’s findings challenge the conventional wisdom that a young underperforming school will improve if given time. Our research shows that if you start wobbly, chances are you’ll stay wobbly,” said Dr. Margaret Raymond, CREDO’s director and the study’s lead author. “Similarly, if a school is successful in producing strong academic progress from the start, our analysis shows it will remain a strong and successful school.”

“We have solid evidence that high quality is possible from the outset,” Dr. Raymond said. “Since the study also shows that the majority of charter management organizations produce consistent quality through their portfolios – regardless of the actual level of quality – policy makers will want to assure that charter schools that replicate have proven models of success.”

In Charter School Growth and Replication, CREDO undertook an unprecedented scientific examination that analyzed charter schools throughout their lifecycle, from their launch through their fifth year, then through initial replication and finally as operators grew into charter management organizations with multiple schools.

The study shows that charter schools have varying quality in their early years that carries through as they mature.

The report demonstrates that charter schools are capable of attaining high levels of performance at the outset, disproving the notion of a universal rocky start-up period. Those charter schools that eventually grow into charter management organizations carry forward their initial levels of performance, which highlights the need for diligence in choosing which charter schools are encouraged to expand into networks.

“We found that the majority of new charter schools reach an initial level of performance, reflected in student academic progress that is largely predictive of later quality. With these findings, we hope to eliminate the conventional wisdom that schools can outgrow a shaky start or that `all schools struggle’ in their early years,” Dr. Raymond said. “Further, if schools replicate and expand, the chances are strong that each organization’s new schools will have the same performance – for better or worse – as the founding school.”

The two-volume CREDO report, released during National School Choice Week, provides two interconnected views of charter schools. The first volume (”Growth”) follows thousands of charter schools from their inception through five years of operations. The volume is descriptive in nature and identifies the performance trajectories in the early years.

The volume ends with the transition of some charter schools as they begin to grow their organization to multiple schools. Volume Two (”Replication”) analyzed 167 charter management organizations (CMO), and their 1,372 schools. The study employs the “virtual twin” approach, known as the Virtual Control Record (VCR) to investigate the performance of CMOs, looking at their impacts on student learning and also on the impact of further growth and replication on the overall performance of the CMO.

In addition, CREDO analyzed the impact on student learning in charter schools that are affiliated with Education Management Organizations (EMOs). Thirty-eight different EMOs with 410 schools were included in this analysis.

Other findings of note:

•In the aggregate, CMOs perform about the same as traditional public schools but the aggregate masks the more interesting and important story of the distribution of performance around the average.

•CMOs were shown to have stronger learning gains for many students groups, compared to traditional public schools and slightly better than what occurs in independent charter schools. Impacts for minority students in poverty are especially significant.

•The majority of charter management organizations create new schools that perform at the same level as their existing portfolios. Across CMOs, the range of quality within the portfolios is consistent regardless of the absolute level of quality that they attain.

As with CMOs, the individual EMO portfolios demonstrate a range of performance around the group average. On average, however, EMOs appear to outperform the TPS local markets in a consistent fashion for students of color and for students with the specific education challenges associated with poverty, Special Education or being an English language learner. These findings suggest that EMOs both can and do provide positive education options for students.

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

32 comments Add your comment

Astropig

February 8th, 2013
8:34 am

Three years sounds like an arbitrary break point. I say give them five. Failing traditional public schools have perpetual life,so five years is not unreasonable.

Thurston Howell IV

February 8th, 2013
8:39 am

Let them stay open forever, like other public schools. Just change the administration,adopt a new slogan (”Victory In A Few Classrooms!”) and shuffle the faces around to create the illusion of engagement. Then, if they just can’t show progress,claim that they were never “fully funded”.

FBT

February 8th, 2013
9:14 am

The market will determine if a charter remains open. Parents will not make the extra effort to send their child to a school which is performing at a lower level than their local public school.

My goodness...

February 8th, 2013
9:20 am

“In the aggregate, CMOs perform about the same as traditional public schools but the aggregate masks the more interesting and important story of the distribution of performance around the average.”

A point that has been made and must be reiterated again and again: the distinction between independent charter school (i.e. they operate as their LEA) and system-run charter school must be made. In the past, the results have been and, given the assertions in the CREDO report above, most likely continue to be very different, with independent schools significantly outperforming existing traditional schools.

To anyone that knows charters, these results are not surprising. The strongest pro to charter schools is independence in governance. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Every school should be fundamentally governed at the school level and operated in a manner that those actually using the school see as efficient. For some charters, its using CMO/EMOs. For others it’s giving power to the teachers to teach how they say fit, so long as their kids can hit certain achievement metrics. It’s the only way to fix things en masse.

Home-tutoring parent

February 8th, 2013
10:05 am

Wow! Walking through muddy swamp is really hard. Should this be a mandatory exercise? Sure. For thirteen straight formative years, no.

Google "NEA" and "union"

February 8th, 2013
10:09 am

“As with CMOs, the individual EMO portfolios demonstrate a range of performance around the group average. On average, however, EMOs appear to outperform the TPS local markets in a consistent fashion for students of color …”

A key problem for those struggling to keep inner-city parents from having choices in K-12 education … are reports like this, which indicate brighter outcomes ARE possible once free of the traditional public school bureaucracy.

Films such as “WAITING FOR SUPERMAN” bear witness to the futility of expecting real improvement to come out of a moribund system which sees preservation of the status quo as paramount.

dc

February 8th, 2013
10:13 am

in today’s “regular” public schools, a parent whose child is stuck in an awful teacher’s class goes to the principal, who sometimes listens politely, and then does……absolutely nothing about it. And of course, the poor teacher who gets that student the following year has to not only teach their normal material, but help the student recover from a year of no learning.

With Charters, the principal knows the parent, if unhappy, has the option of leaving, and taking their funding with them.

That alone will drive the administration to do something about the awful teachers who, thought very few in number, cause immense damage to the students stuck in their class for the year.

Google "NEA" and "union"

February 8th, 2013
10:41 am

“As with CMOs, the individual EMO portfolios demonstrate a range of performance around the group average. On average, however, EMOs appear to outperform the TPS local markets in a consistent fashion for students of color …”

A key problem for those struggling to keep inner-city parents from having choices in K-12 education—are reports like this, which indicate brighter outcomes ARE possible once free of the traditional public school bureaucracy.

… Which won’t stop those intent on finding fault with innovative reforms—even this very early stage.

d

February 8th, 2013
10:42 am

@dc…. I don’t know about that claim that principals won’t move a child. I started out this semester pushing 40 children in one class. A second section was created (because I was the only one teaching the particular course this semester). The new teacher is fully qualified, certified, and ready to teach the course, but she hasn’t taught it before. Two students who were moved over were moved back on the parents’ requests because they were concerned about the other teacher not having the experience teaching this course.

This is just one example, but I have seen it countless times at my school.

Home-tutoring parent

February 8th, 2013
10:58 am

We did home-learning. It was imperfect, but it was fun. For in-school-teaching some significant rethinks may be worth considering. Tech grads 3.7+ GPA in upper level courses, for your math and science teachers for 4th-6th, 7th-8th, 9th-12th grade students’ teachers.

You have to pay them $60k to start as 22 year olds, so what? Who says that is “too expensive”? Do you know what Tech 3.7+ GPA STEM grads MINDS are worth?

Mary Elizabeth

February 8th, 2013
11:03 am

“. . .the majority of charter management organizations produce consistent quality through their portfolios – regardless of the actual level of quality. . .”
==================================================

In that more public charter schools are certain to be created with the passage of the Amendment to Georgia’s Constitution, these charter schools should be monitored and audited closely for the validity of their claims of success and of their use of public tax money.

Moreover, as public schools, the teachers’ benefits in these public charter schools (such as their teachers’ being able to be a part of the Teacher Retirement System of Georgia) and their teachers’ salaries – not for individual teachers, but as a composite – should be given full public disclosure.

Lynn43

February 8th, 2013
11:28 am

Parents will keep their children in a charter school no matter the level of education the children are receiving. It is an “ego” thing. Some parents even though they say charters are public view these schools as private schools with no tuition. I do not consider the charters I’ve had contact with as public schools because they include regulations for registration that public schools cannot require. By doing this, they can be selective about which students they enroll at THEIR schools.

Anonymous for this one

February 8th, 2013
11:55 am

I know of a charter school with no discipline plan and no attendance policy, this seems to be one of the primary reason why some of the parent’s have chosen this school.

Lee

February 8th, 2013
12:23 pm

“…most charter schools their ultimate success or failure can be predicted by year three of a school’s life.”

By the same critera, couldn’t you then say that if a public school has been a failure for the past three years, then it will continue to be a failure?

Schools systems? Dekalb, Clayton?

See where you can take this? No, this report might point out some trends, but one thing I have learned in over 35 years of business is that past performance is not a predictor of future success (or failure).

Dr. Monica Henson

February 8th, 2013
12:45 pm

Mary Elizabeth posted, “these charter schools should be monitored and audited closely for the validity of their claims of success and of their use of public tax money.”

That’s precisely why we have a Charter Schools Commission and a Charter Schools Division within GaDOE.

Who’s monitoring and auditing closely the validity of the claims of success and the use of public tax money in district public schools?

Dr. Monica Henson

February 8th, 2013
12:47 pm

Lynn43, please provide specific examples of “[the charters I’ve had contact with] include regulations for registration that public schools cannot require. By doing this, they can be selective about which students they enroll at THEIR schools.”

The ONLY legal requirements that any public school, district or charter, can make for registration of any student is proof of age & residency, along with immunization records or a waiver thereof.

Dr. Monica Henson

February 8th, 2013
12:49 pm

Mary Elizabeth also posted, “Moreover, as public schools, the teachers’ benefits in these public charter schools (such as their teachers’ being able to be a part of the Teacher Retirement System of Georgia) and their teachers’ salaries – not for individual teachers, but as a composite – should be given full public disclosure.”

Why do you believe that this information is not public record? You can request the budget and benefits information of any public school, charter or district. They are public entities and their financial records are public.

mountain man

February 8th, 2013
12:55 pm

“I know of a charter school with no discipline plan and no attendance policy”

They wanted to be just like a traditional public school. IN fact, they may have BEEN a traditional public school.

Dr. Monica Henson

February 8th, 2013
1:09 pm

The State Board of Education will not approve any charter application that does not present a detailed discipline plan and attendance policy, even if the local BOE did approve it before sending it on the the SBOE. All charter applications, whether for independent startup, locally authorized startup, or local conversion, must ultimately be approved by the SBOE.

“I know of a charter school with no discipline plan and no attendance policy” = BS.

jarvis

February 8th, 2013
1:30 pm

Dr. Henson, heck out the Tybee Island Maritime school. While a public Chatham County charter, it openly gives preference to children living on Tybee Island. How is that legit? Why would they get any preference over any other county resident?

jarvis

February 8th, 2013
1:31 pm

Here is a quote from their website, ” If TIMA does not receive admission applications from Tybee Island students that meet or exceed the number of available spaces per grade, students from both Tybee Island and Chatham County will be placed in a lottery.”

Dr. Monica Henson

February 8th, 2013
1:39 pm

Tybee Island is their attendance zone. All “regular” public schools have attendance zones based on ZIP codes of residence. Charter schools can do the same, with the requirement that if seat available exceed the enrollees in the attendance zone, then they must hold a public lottery.

Fred ™

February 8th, 2013
2:08 pm

That’s precisely why we have a Charter Schools Commission and a Charter Schools Division within GaDOE.

Yeah a double naught little secret commission answerable to NO ONE except Nathan Deal, the man who resigned his seat in Congress to escape ethics charges. I feel really good about my tax dollars now……… and he appoints them……….

There already WAS a process to open charter schools. The only problem was that it was LOCAL and the State Gov’t couldn’t steal from it……..

Dr. Monica Henson

February 8th, 2013
4:35 pm

The Commission isn’t secret at all. They hold public meetings as required by statute, no secret meetings. They were nominated by the Governor, the Lt. Governor, and the Speaker of the House, with the State BOE approving the appointments. The first meeting was this month. Why don’t you attend their open meetings and see for yourself just how nefarious the goings-on are, Fred?

Dr. Monica Henson

February 8th, 2013
4:36 pm

The chartering process has always been a parallel system of local and state authorization, never purely the purview of local districts, by the way.

LD

February 8th, 2013
5:55 pm

Currently, charter schools begin with an advantage – by the sole act of choosing. the school knows that those students have an adult active in their education. Having an engaged adult is one factor to a successful educational career.

Until a charter school’s student body is selected by lottery from the entire district (i.e. – parents have to opt OUT of the charter school, not opt IN) it is not a true apples-to-apples comparison. This is not about demographics – there are engaged and disengaged parents in every demographic. This is about charter schools having to deal with the entire spectrum of households – not just those looking for something different and/or better.

Jerry Eads

February 8th, 2013
7:14 pm

I only skimmed the report – looking for indications of the measures used to “indicate quality.” They had no choice but to use extant measures – usually state tests. Those tests generally measure low-level skills – like Georgia’s. That said, it’s true that if one is going to think well, one must have content to think about. But such tests don’t give us anything useful on whether kids are actually being educated. IF Common Core realizes decent tests measuring capacities beyond factoid recognition (as I hope) then it will be interesting to replicate this study with those better measures of “quality.”

As the report points out, research has shown that high quality for charter schools is the exception rather than the rule. This study does not reject those findings. Charter schools, despite the fantasies of the charter school tent meeting crowd, are no silver bullet.

The study, however, may give us some insight as to what qualities we should look for in charters (and probably publics). IF we can do such, AND the various selecters (local boards, state board, state commission) choose to use that information (incredibly unlikely), charters as a rule rather than exception might become a viable alternative.

By the way, I’m beginning to see a purpose for charters, assuming we get smart about them. We make the gruesome mistake of blaming teachers for the state of public schools (who the heck do you think teaches in charter schools?). They simply have to do what they’re told in the factory model we have. Only when school leadership stops running schools like dictatorships and teachers gain their proper professional status will publics begin to become what they must. Perhaps the threat of charters can begin to force that hand.

Dr. Monica Henson

February 8th, 2013
9:25 pm

Jerry is right on the money: “high quality for charter schools is the exception rather than the rule. This study does not reject those findings. Charter schools, despite the fantasies of the charter school tent meeting crowd, are no silver bullet.”

I couldn’t agree more that charter schools are not a silver bullet, and that high quality is the exception and not the rule. What makes a high quality charter school are the SAME things that make high quality district schools–it’s easier, though, to create those conditions in a startup charter when you aren’t saddled with an inherited, entrenched faculty, and you are sought out by students and families.

Dr. Monica Henson

February 8th, 2013
9:29 pm

I should have added, and not weighed down with an elected school board that tries to influence hiring & dismissal, purchasing, and other management decisions.

Anonymous for this one

February 8th, 2013
9:39 pm

The charter school has no attendance plan or discipline plan that anyone can produce or follows… …is that better?

Just the Facts

February 9th, 2013
4:14 am

Year 3?… My tradtional, neighborhood APS school has been failing for 25+ years.

Entitlement Society

February 11th, 2013
8:50 am

So what is all this I hear about the “new Buckhead charter school” my neighbors are barking at my door trying to get me to sign some petition in support of? I left the APS mess and pay high private school tuition to avoid their drama! I don’t see the necessity of a charter school in Buckhead when there are so many private school options.