Since CSP’s launch in May 2009, our goals have included increasing the number of high-performing charters in Minnesota with a special emphasis on increasing the number of low-income students being served by high-performing charters.
To achieve these goals, CSP’s strategic framework has focused on a multi-prong strategy including incubating and launching new high-impact charters, replicating high-performing schools, working with good and great schools to help make them even better, and the closing of chronically low-performing charters. Over the past few years, very real and solid progress has been made in each of these four areas — progress that is now quantifiable and showing increased momentum.
CREDO Report: Substantial improvement in the charter sector
According to the Stanford University June 2013 National Charter School Study CREDO Report, charter schools in Minnesota have shown substantial improvements from 2008 to 2011 in reading and math and now surpass their peers in district schools in annual learning gains for reading in the state. Particularly stunning, was the improvement for the newer charter schools not included in the 2009 CREDO report. The chart below reflects that these new schools have made gains of 21 days of learning for math and 42 days of learning in reading compared with their district counterparts.
“The (CREDO Study) outcome suggests that poorly performing charter schools are closing in Minnesota, and being replaced with new schools that produce superior results. Al Fan, executive director of Charter School Partners, which advocates for high-quality charters, said the data reflect the emergence of gap-closing, high-quality charters such as Global Academy, Hiawatha Academies and Harvest Prep.” Star Tribune. June 24, 2013
The report, which repeatedly mentioned Minnesota as a state showing great improvement in its charter sector, concluded that the “enrollment and persistence in charter schools is especially helpful for some students, particularly students in poverty, black students, and English language learners all of whom post significantly higher learning gains in both reading and math.”
Beating the Odds Charters
For several years running, charter schools top the Star Tribune’s ‘Beating the Odds’ list, where eight of ten schools most effectively closing the opportunity/achievement gap for the state’s low-income student are charters. Even opponents of charter schools, most notably Myron Orfield, who heads up the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity (formerly the Institute on Race and Poverty), stated in the IMO’s October 2013 study ‘Charters in the Twin Cities’ that:
“there is a group of roughly a dozen high-poverty charters exhibiting pass rates significantly better than expected, and for the most part, better than their tradition counter-parts. This group, not very evident in the 2007-08 analysis but beginning to coalesce in the 2010-11 charts, represent a class of schools that are important given the significant achievement gaps that exists in the region (and the state) between white students and black students. Research on why they are succeeding is clearly needed”.
The anti-charter IMO study suggests that these ‘Beating the Odds’ schools are somehow an anomaly, however, Charter School Partners focus is on launching and replicating these high-performing charters. In fact, as the IMO report suggests, these high-impact schools were not very evident in 2007-08 but now there are about a dozen of them today serving low-income students. In 2013 alone, Charter School Partners helped launch six new potentially high-impact charters serving families from the Twin Cities urban core. CSP’s five-year goal is to increase the number of close-the-gap schools from 12 (today) to 32 –just in Minneapolis alone.
Do charters really underperform district schools?
The Orfield study also restated that charters continue to underperform compared to their district counterparts. Given that charters serve almost twice the number of low-income and special-education students, this is technically true. However, the study does not tell the whole story nor does it acknowledge or properly document the quality strides charters have made in the last several years.
The biggest flaw in the IMO’s report is that it only uses proficiency as a measure of academic performance. Generally, this measure serves as a snapshot of the students in the school rather than an indication of the effect the school is having on the students. As a result, the measure favors schools with higher populations of white/middle income students while ignoring schools that are getting high levels of growth from their students that may not have reached proficiency.
Minnesota charter schools do serve a higher population of low-income and special-ed students and given the importance of closing the achievement gap, the Orfield study mentions, but does not reflect, the impact that high-achieving charters are having on these critical populations. Also, because the study compares schools in the urban core with schools in the suburbs, it does not reflect compelling data that show charters in Minneapolis and St. Paul are significantly outperforming district schools and providing a better education for families in their particular neighborhoods.
Minneapolis district/charters data
Recent state test scores (which now reflect proficiency, growth, closing the achievement gap and graduation rates — not just proficiency) shows significant academic improvement in the Minneapolis charter school sector. In fact, Minneapolis charters can now boast that 42% of its schools are in MDE’s Reward or Celebration Eligible categories (top 40 percentile of all public schools in the state. Reward Schools=top 15 percentile; Celebration Eligible Schools=the next 25 percentile) versus 11% for the MPS district schools. Conversely, 29% of Minneapolis charters are in the lowest 25 percentile of all public schools in the state and a staggering 60% of MPS District schools are in the lowest quartile of all public schools in the state.
This is further illustrated by the two separate charts below which shows a school-by-school breakdown for both sectors. The first graph shows all charter schools in Minneapolis and the second all MPS District schools. Note that in the charter graph, most of the high-performing schools in the upper right hand corner serve a majority of low-income students (blue diamond). Conversely, the schools in the district chart that get the best academic results are exclusively in the more affluent white southwest corner of Minneapolis.
Taking the charter sector to the next level
Recently, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools released its 2013 charter market share report in which it documented that charter school enrollment has grown both nationally and in the Twin Cities, with Minneapolis and St. Paul for the first time having more than 20% of all public school students in charter schools. As charter school advocates, we are of course buoyed by this. However, more important than the sheer number of students in charter schools, is that these students are in high-impactful, high-performing schools — which as noted above is at the core of CSP’s focus and mission.