Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Charter School Scores

The scores from last year's testing are in, comparing the charter school to the surrounding Cache District. And it doesn't look good for the charter school. In just about every subject at just about every grade level, the district looks much better. However, there are certain factors that have to be taken into consideration:
  1. These scores are from the charter school's second year of operation. Cache district has been operating for a lot more than two years.
  2. During this year, the curriculum committee was in the process of deciding on core standards, so these scores do not reflect what the charter school can do given a uniform set of standards.
  3. Besides not having any standards, the charter school did not have a consistent curriculum either (they do now, though, thanks to my efforts and those of the other curriculum committee members). Many of the classes were using outdated textbooks. My sixth-grade math class didn't have any textbooks at all.
  4. Many of the students at the charter school came here because traditional public schools were failing to educate them, so they had a lot of catching up to do. In particular the third grade class last year was so far behind coming into the beginning of the school year that the teacher was hard-pressed to even get them up to grade level. In a related point, students in the Cache district have likely been in that district all their educational lives, but students at the charter school would have been there a maximum of two years, and few of them would have been there for all that time. This is particularly applicable to higher grades, where students may have languished for years before entering the charter school.
  5. Quality of teaching has been an issue. In particular the parent board has been hiring younger and less experienced teachers, believing that these will adapt to the charter school ethos better than teachers who have been seasoned in the traditional public school system. I happen to disagree with the parent board on that issue, but (a) I may be biased because my mom is a seasoned teacher who's been passed over twice now by the parent board, and (b) I don't have the time right now to get on the parent board and do something about it. At any rate, we've had a lot of turnover in the faculty. Younger teachers tend to do crazy things like get married and move away, and they also don't have the experience necessary to teach in an environment where you have to make your own way without being guided by a scripted curriculum.
  6. Cache district may not be the best population to compare to the charter school population. Not all the charter school students come from Cache district; many of them (maybe half) come from Logan district. In relation to point 4 above, Cache schools may have been doing a better job than Logan schools, and the students at the charter school were still catching up from being in Logan schools for x number of years. I couldn't find the Logan district scores on their website so I can't say this with confidence, but this is a possibility that should be considered. Logan district schools have had some problems with teacher hiring, with anecdotal evidence of racial prejudice and preference toward young teachers with high turnover.
All in all, I don't think we should take this one year of scores as representative of what the charter school can do. This year has been much better organized than last year. Some changes are being made that will make the parent board operate more smoothly. The school now has up-to-date textbooks and a curriculum that is unified across grade levels. Personally, I'd wait to see the next two years' worth of numbers before jumping to conclusions about whether the charter school model can work.

Statistics aside, though, there are a lot of less quantifiable factors besides academic excellence that would impel parents to choose the charter school for their kids. For one thing, bullying is not tolerated there. One mother I know put her daughter in the charter school because the daughter was being tied up with jump ropes on the playground of her local public school. The principal's response to this was "The next time you get tied up, come and tell me immediately," as if a girl who was tied up on the playground could march right into the office. The playground aides were chatting instead of watching; and if the aides didn't see it, the principal wouldn't take action on it. The girl hasn't been tied up once at the charter school. Another factor is the high level of participation from parents. Parents at traditional public schools are often told to butt out and parents of prospective students are not allowed to visit classrooms. At the charter school, parents are encouraged to participate and prospective parents can tour active classrooms.

The biggest intangible factor for me, though, is how the school approaches education. In the traditional public schools, Princess was just another faceless cipher. She was to learn what all other ciphers her age were to learn. If she needed more help or more books to read, no one would give her more; if she went too fast, she would be held back until the others caught up with her. I didn't think it was a good idea to put her, or any child of mine, in an environment that treated them like that. The charter school has been very different. Because the teachers are free from the bureaucratic pecadilloes of a school district, they have the time and energy to actually see to it that each child gets some attention. If a child needs more attention than they can give, they have the ability to call in whatever they need to get the child educated. Teachers in a district school don't have that flexibility, and in addition are subjected to onerous requirements for paperwork reporting their results.

So take these test scores with a grain of salt. While test scores are important, not everything can be measured by test scores. And one set of scores is hardly a trend. Still, I'll be speaking to the principal about the scores to get his opinion, and I'll ask him if I can report what he says about it on this blog.