The Rest of the Story–on Connecticut Public Charter Schools

January 31, 2013 • General, Turnaround Schools

The recent commentary posted on the Stamford Advocate blog by columnist Wendy Lecker paints an incomplete picture about charter schools. A review of the charter school data for the schools reauthorized in June 2012 presents a far more diverse student achievement picture than was presented by Ms. Lecker.

As mentioned, there were seven charter schools reauthorized in June of 2012.  Of these, the two in Stamford–Trailblazers Academy and Stamford Academy–are populated mostly by minority and low-income students who have unfortunately experienced repeat failures in the traditional public school setting. Many of them have literally been written off as unable to succeed in school, much less graduate. (Trailblazers has 95% minority enrollment and 91.4% low-income enrollment, while Stamford has 94% minority and 88.4% low-income.) Consequently, student achievement and high school graduation data for these two schools is low, but a significant improvement over expected results, absent their intervention. Because all students in the public education system in CT are held to the same standards, these factors are not readily apparent in reviewing the data.

Observing that enrollment at Milner, a school partnering with Jumoke Academy, has gone down, Ms. Lecker writes, “we can already see that Jumoke’s Milner is not the same as last year’s Milner.” Well, we certainly hope not. Over the last three years at “last year’s Milner”, students scored an average of 32.8 on the School Performance Index (SPI). Put in lay terms, that means most Milner students were not even scoring at the “Basic” level on their CMTs. In contrast, Jumoke students scored a three-year average SPI of 80.1 (which is close to the statewide achievement target of 88). That score indicates that many Jumoke students had “Advanced” and “Goal” CMT scores. As measured by test scores, students at Jumoke were more than twice as successful as students at Milner. There’s nothing unreasonable about the hypothesis that a partnership between Milner and Jumoke should advance student learning at the former Milner School.

Of the four remaining renewals, two–Achievement First-Bridgeport and Elm City Prep–are Schools of Distinction, a designation for the highest performing or most improved schools.

Amistad Academy is a focus school because its graduation rate of 58.6% falls below the 60% threshold established for that designation. (Ms. Lecker incorrectly reported a graduation rate of 49%.)  Amistad’s three-year SPI of 80.8 (CMT) and 75.6 (CAPT) also indicate high student performance. In fact, Amistad’s statewide average for the overwhelmingly low-income and minority populations it serves far exceeds the statewide average for the same subgroups. These results are likely to translate into continuously improved graduation rates over time.

The Bridge Academy, despite boasting a high graduation rate, indeed has some low test scores (three-year SPI of 61.2 in CMT and 56.2 in CAPT). That’s probably why the state has so reasonably given the school Review status (which means school improvement planning is already underway).

While public charter schools in Connecticut, like traditional public schools, have areas warranting improvement, their academic condition is not as dire as Ms. Lecker portrayed, nor is it void of examples of high achievement.