New review finds state charter schools are mixed bag. That doesn’t mean bag won’t get bigger.

A state Supreme Court ruling today means the program that provides tax exemptions to those who contribute to scholarships for students to use at private schools, including religious schools, will remain in place.

The State Charter Schools Commission authorized Georgia State University to study the performance of the charter schools it has approved. The recently released study reveals the proverbial “mixed” results we’ve seen in earlier reviews of charter performance in Georgia.

Most charters schools in Georgia are locally approved, but the commission is a constitutionally created entity that can overrule local school boards and endorse new charter schools. The Legislature pushed for a commission to overcome what it saw as hostility from local school boards to the charter concept.

The commission tends to be judicious in its approvals, but the GSU review still found “a mixed bag, with 15 statewide charter schools neither excelling far ahead of nor dragging far behind the traditional public schools against which they’re meant to compete,” according to my AJC colleague Ty Tagami.

Charter schools remain a favored reform strategy in Georgia and will likely play a role in the Opportunity School District plan being promoted by Gov. Nathan Deal and put before voters in November. If approved, the OSD will be able to take over failing schools and turn them into charters as one option.

In looking at the performance of some of the state charters approved amid controversy due to local school board opposition, I find no difference compared to their traditional peer schools and, in some cases, lower results, especially in math.

I’m not sure of the value of an appointed state commission in downtown Atlanta approving local dollars over the objections of locally elected school boards to launch schools that then lag in performance. If the commission is not in the business of incubating great schools – the original purpose according to the Legislature — what is the point?

If you look at this report, note the performance of the online charters. The state has got to maintain a better watch on the dollars flowing to virtual education, which is under question everywhere in the country. Online classes seem a natural fit for ambitious and self-disciplined students or for those whose parents are able to monitor them and ensure they keep up with the work. Online classes do not seem to be good solution for struggling students with poor study habits. We are seeing more schools embrace a blended approach that combines online and in-person instruction and that is a welcome trend.

A piece of good news in this review is the performance of middle school grades. Middle school tends to be where students lose interest in school and go off track. The typically smaller environments of charter schools may be an antidote to that loss of interest and focus. Or, it may be the grade configuration of charters is a factor. I still like the small K-8 model that many private schools follow and that some public districts around the country are reinstating.

Here is the executive summary of the report:

A total of 15 state charter schools operated in Georgia during the 2014-15 school year. Two of the schools, Georgia Cyber Academy and the Odyssey School, had previously appeared as a single institution in the Georgia Department of Education’s administrative records. Thus, this report documents the performance of 15 state charter schools in the 2014-15 school year and also provides performance data for 2013-14 and 2012-13 for 13 the state charter schools, other than Georgia Cyber and Odyssey, which operated in 2014-15.

Key findings are:

State charter schools are diverse and many provide learning environments that differ from those of traditional public schools. State charter schools vary along multiple dimensions, including grade levels, student demographics, instructional mode (face-to-face or virtual), curricular focus and geographic area served.

Four of 15 schools serve only elementary and middle grades, another five serve elementary, middle and at least some high school grades, three serve both middle and high grades, one serves only middle school students and two only serve grades 9-12. Four of the fifteen are single-gender schools, and African-American enrollment at five schools is 95 percent or more.

One school has over 20 percent of students classified as gifted, while four report no gifted students. Three of the 15 schools provide fully online course offerings while the remaining 12 provide face-to-face instruction exclusively.

The three fully online virtual schools and one “brick-and-mortar” school enroll students from throughout the state, one school enrolls students who reside within a five-county region, and the remaining 10 enroll students from a single school district only.

The majority of state charter schools serving elementary grades perform as well as the average public elementary school in the state. The estimated contribution to student achievement in grades 4 and 5 across all four Milestones-tested subjects (math, ELA, science and social studies) was not significantly different from the state average for five of the nine state charter schools serving elementary grades. Performance for the other four was significantly below the state average.

This cross-subject average masks significant variation across subjects, however. For example, in ELA only two of the nine schools performs below the average elementary school in the state while in math six of the nine are significantly below the state average.

Most state charter schools serving middle grades perform as well or better than the average public middle school in the state. The estimated contribution to student achievement in grades 6-8 averaged across all four Milestones-tested subjects is not significantly different from the state average for seven of the 13 state charter schools that enroll students in one or more of grades 6-8. The cross-subject average performance of two state charters exceeds that of the average middle school in the state, and the contribution to student achievement for four state charters falls below the state average.

Performance of state charters serving middle grades is particularly strong in language arts, with the performance of six schools exceeding the state average and the performance of another six is not significantly different from the state average; only one school’s performance in language arts is significantly below the state average. In contrast, performance of state charter schools was relatively weak in science.

None of the 13 state charter schools serving middle school students had estimated contributions to student achievement in science that exceeded the state average, the performance of seven schools was not significantly different from the state average and the performance of six fell below the state average.

Performance in math and social studies were both quite mixed, with some state charters exceeding the statewide average and some falling below the state average in each subject. State Charter Schools Performance Evaluation, 2014-2015.

The performance of state charter schools serving high school grades is uneven when compared to the average public high school in the state. Variation across subjects must be interpreted with caution, however, since some state charters have just begun to expand their range of grade offerings into high school and, thus, the sample of schools varies across subject areas. Further, three of the five state charters offering all high school grades (9-12) are virtual schools.

In 9th Grade Literature, five of nine state charters are performing above the state average and the performance of the other four is not significantly different from the state average. For the five schools with test scores for American Literature, the contribution to student achievement for three schools is not significantly different from the state average while performance of the other two exceeds the state average.

For Analytic Geometry four of six schools perform at a level indistinguishable from the state average and two perform below the state average.

In Coordinate Algebra, performance of two of nine state charter schools exceeds the state average, performance of six is not significantly different from the state average and the performance of one school falls below the state average.

In Biology two of nine schools perform above the state average, performance of four schools is indistinguishable from the state average and performance of the other three schools is significantly below the state average.

In Physical Science four of seven schools have estimated contributions to student achievement below the state average and performance of the other three is indistinguishable from the state average.

In economics three of four schools fall significantly below the state average and one school is above the state average. Performance is also generally low in U.S. History, with four of six schools performing below the state average and two whose performance is indistinguishable from the state average.

 

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66 comments
AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Smoke and mirrors - a tortured research piece(see the explanation of theory of arriving at achievement data) commissioned by the State Charter Schools Commission from a state university. Hmmmm, what would happen to GSU funding if the research had delved into all aspects and reported unfriendly findings?


Real public schools will be taken over by OSD based on CCRPI.


The State Charter Schools Commision schools CCRPI:

5 C

5 D

5 F


Some of these schools are not meeting their charter goals in their "contracts" and should be closed but the SCSC has created a new "framework" that failing SCSC   schools can switch to - 


 "The framework will likely be an attractive option for many schools since it incorporates a wider variety of measures (including a greater emphasis on growth and value-added impact on student achievement) than current SCSC charter contracts." https://scsc.georgia.gov/scsc-comprehensive-performance-framework

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian The CCRPI is not a reliable measure of anything.  It's another Georgia education scam.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Starik @AvgGeorgian

I agree -  But it is wrong to use CCRPI to label real public schools as failing so the state can take them over, while allowing the state to run charter schools that don't have to:

1. Meet CCRPI

2. Meet their own charter contract goals

3. Report salary or vendor financials


Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian @Starik I agree. Georgia is not comfortable with the education system; improving it would make voters less ignorant, which is essential to Southern politics.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@AvgGeorgian GSU researchers have a long association with the state on cheerleader-flavored research. Look at that about the HOPE.  

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Wascatlady @redweather @AvgGeorgian

I think they maintained their research integrity by going to great lengths to narrow the focus. It seems to have not painted as bad a picture of the state charters as they deserve.


If 33% of your schools are consistently failing with 33% close behind, and that does not get a mention in the report, that seems unusual.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

“Charter schools remain a favored reform strategy in Georgia and will likely play a role in the Opportunity School District plan being promoted by Gov. Nathan Deal and put before voters in November. If approved, the OSD will be able to take over failing schools and turn them into charters as one option.

“In looking at the performance of some of the state charters approved amid controversy due to local school board opposition, I find no difference compared to their traditional peer schools and, in some cases, lower results, especially in math.”

No surprise, here.  Why?  Simple.  The charter schools collective is inherently and fundamentally the public schools collective operating by a different name, with flexibility-for-more-accountability thrown in to foster competition through political expediency.  But flexibility merely removes certain constraints, so gets rid of some of what is not wanted and does not necessarily bring what is wanted, or needed.  Then by competing with public schools, charter schools impede themselves from learning to improve beyond public schools.  Consequently, systemic academic performance variation amongst charter schools, state and otherwise, can only turn out to be, at best, similar to systemic academic performance variation amongst public schools.  Moreover, the end-game can only turn out to be public schools destroyed, their monies and infrastructures syphoned off to charter schools, and charter schools left to keep performing no better than public schools would have -- a win-lose outcome.  So, charter schools are but political expediency’s folly, as in, for example: “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” (Proverbs 14:8 NIV)

Astropig
Astropig

@EdJohnson


Charter schools are parental choice and parental empowerment. Why on earth would you be against that?

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Astropig @EdJohnson Here Piggy Piggy....what schools are children excluded from? As far As I can tell, I can move school districts or pay for private.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Astropig @EdJohnson 


Are you talking about the parents being able to choose board members who will control the local education dollars in their local school system?

Starik
Starik

@JBBrown1968 @Astropig @EdJohnson Not everybody can move for various reasons such as owing more than their house is worth. Not everybody can pay private school tuition, or find a decent private school, or get their kid admitted.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Starik @JBBrown1968 @Astropig @EdJohnson So belittling hard working educators for at least being in the classroom and trying to make a difference! You are a victim like the pig.....I can't improve my child's education its to hard to work! 


No, I am not a teacher!

Starik
Starik

@Starik @Astropig @EdJohnson "So belittling hard working educators for at least being in the classroom and trying to make a difference!"  Not the hard working, intelligent teachers, the ones who are in it for the money. Good teachers are paid too little, bad ones too much, or shouldn't be employed. There are too many administrators who are paid too much. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Starik @JBBrown1968 @Astropig @EdJohnson Some people would counter that if you owe more than the house is worth and are unable to move to a better district for your child, you are reaping the consequences of your poor decisions.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

The amendment is not asking the taxpayers if they want a choice; it's guaranteeing the taxpayer that educational outcomes will improve if schools are passed into the hands of the very profitable charter industry.

Astropig
Astropig

The one thing that this study cannot show is the improvement in nearby,traditional zip code schools that have to step up their game in order to retain students and keep them from migrating to charters.That,dear friends,is the real value of these schools.


Given the unreasonable obstructionist attitude toward these innovative institutions by the failing status quo,political neanderthals and the media,I'd say that this report is pretty good news.When you have to battle for existence every day, mere survival is victory.


This will make my 4th of July holiday even better.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Astropig Do you not have a real job? If you have a boss, you sure are not a good employee! What is so innovative about those institutions? Put up a real innovation instead of bad public, good charter! 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig Has there been some documented, real, verifiable "improvement in nearby, traditional zip code schools?"

Falcaints
Falcaints

If the biggest factor is small class sizes then most of us are just out of luck.  I had 34 in every class last year and it won't be any different this year. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Were any of these state-approved charters given to for-profit corporations?

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@eulb @redweather


There is no way to trace salary or vendor payments for state commissioned charter schools - they no longer report as do real public schools.

eulb
eulb

@AvgGeorgian If there's no way for the public to trace the path of $$ upward from our state's charter schools to the for-profit entity behind the enterprise, maybe there's a way to get a ballpark estimate by looking at it from the other direction.  Start with the for-profit entity's financial documents to ascertain where the corporation's $$ came from.  If the corp's stock is publicly traded, the financials are available. I'm not good at analyzing those documents, but maybe someone else around here is.  Lee_CPA2? 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@eulb @AvgGeorgian

Good idea, but why would any so called conservatives promote charter schools with no academic or financial accountability. It exposes them as republibots led by their betters(elite masters). They have ceased thinking for themselves. 

eulb
eulb

@redweather You may be right that for-profit public charter schools are not allowed.  But some of these charters are so closely connected to for-profit corporations, that it looks like the not-for-profit entity is just a shell corporation whose main purpose is to funnel public money to a specific for-profit entity.  Examples:  1)  Georgia Cyber Academy  and K12 Inc (stock ticker symbol LRN); 2) Georgia Connections Academy and Pearson (stock ticker symbol PSO) .  I would like to see financial audits of our charter schools.  I want a way to trace where our tax dollars are going.

eulb
eulb

@redweather  I'm not surprised, redweather.  One of my children was one of their students for one year -- the first year of operation in Georgia.  The name was different then, Georgia Virtual Academy, I think.  It was a truly terrible school experience.  My family stuck it out for the whole year.  I think we were rare.  Many students bailed out within the first few weeks. A few things I wanted to know, but could never get answers to:

1) How much $$ did the state pay per student and when did they pay it? 

a) Did the state pay "up front" an amount intended to cover each student for the entire school year?

b) Or were payments spread out over the school year, based on some sort or periodic headcount?

2) Did the school receive additional $$ for each special needs student just like traditional public schools?  If so, how did the school use that money?

3) When a student withdrew or simply stopped participating online, did the state receive any money back? 

4) When students left GVA partway through the academic year, did public funds follow them? 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@BRV They call it "sweeps" because they sweep up the money and spirit away with it?

redweather
redweather

@eulb @redweather My experience with Georgia Cyber Academy has not been positive. It is usually impossible to contact any of the school's administration. Last time I tried, all of my calls went to voicemail and every voicemail box was full. No lie.

BRV
BRV

A "sweeps" contract is one where the 501c3 contracts with a CMO (profit or non-profit) to provide everything from desks to teachers and day to day management. For profit CMOs typically have a seperate real estate development company owned by the same owners as the CMO. The real estate corporation builds / owns the school building and collects (typically high-cost) rent from the 501c3. This is how Cherokee Charter operates through contracts with Charters USA and Red School House, Inc the real estate arm of Charters USA. The fact that the law requires charters to be nominally non-profit is irrelevant. For profits can legally siphon all of the money through a shell 501c3.

eulb
eulb

@BRV  Thank you for that explanation, BRV. That makes sense. Can you also explain how the statewide online schools work?  Since there is no brick/mortar school building, those schools are probably not funneling money to a real estate development corporation.  Where is it going?