making-up-ground game

Study: Students gain by attending city charter schools, usually

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A chart from the latest CREDO study about city charter schools shows that students at many charter schools make outsized gains in math. But in reading, charter school students tend fall behind more often, researchers found.

City students benefit from attending city charter schools, according to a new study — but the advantages are not universal.

The study, by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which analyzes charter school performance, concluded that city charter school students, on average, learn five more months of math each year than similar students in neighboring schools. In Harlem, where the charter school enrollment share is highest, the math gain was seven months, the researchers found.

And in reading, charter school students averaged one month’s additional learning each year, the researchers found. All of the gains were measured by students’ state test scores.

Yet within the sector, some schools did far better than the average — and others far worse. The study found that nearly two thirds of charter schools moved their students forward in math significantly farther than other schools in the area. But a full quarter of charter schools moved their students forward significantly less in reading.

In 2010, CREDO found that students at New York City charter schools advanced in math and reading faster than students at schools operated by the city Department of Education. The new study looks at a larger number of schools and also uses a methodology that CREDO has applied elsewhere. The methodology compares actual charter school students’ performance to that of “virtual twins” in district schools — students who are demographically identical and start with similar academic skills.

In almost all cases where students in charter and district schools had statistically significant differences, students’ test scores increased faster in charter schools than in district schools. All of the exceptions were for reading scores — for black and Hispanic students, where students on average did slightly worse; students in schools that spanned many grades; students in their first year at a charter school; and students in schools that do not belong to charter management organizations.

The study draws special attention to the 46 percent of charter schools whose student achievement on state reading tests was lower than the city average — and whose students made less progress than average, too.

“The number that demands attention is the nearly 46 percent of New York City charter schools that have both low growth and low achievement in reading,” Devora Davis, the lead author of the CREDO report said in a statement. “If things continue as they are students in these schools may be at risk of falling further behind their peers in the state over time.”

Charter school advocates said the 46 percent number was misleading because it was based on a calculation with a larger margin of error than most of those in the report. But they said low-performing and high-performing schools should both get a closer look. Nationally, the charter sector is lobbying charter school authorizers to close more low-performing charter schools.

“These results should finally ignite a conversation around what is working in these schools, and how successful practices can be spread so that many more students in both traditional and charter public schools can benefit,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, in a statement.

And Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, said the findings helped make the case for charter schools to be able to secure state funding for pre-kindergarten, an issue that is at the top of the charter sector’s agenda for the year.

And a spokesman for the city Department of Education said the report’s findings proved that school choice is benefiting students.

“This report further validates our strategy to offer families high quality school options,” said the spokesman, Devon Puglia. “We’re continuing to stay focused on building a system of great schools, and on improving outcomes in all of them — district and charter.”

Because so many Harlem students attend charter schools — 25 percent during the period analyzed in the study — the researchers could take a closer look at the impact of schools there on different kinds of students. They found that poor students, low-scoring students, and students who have repeated grades all make gains faster in charter schools. English language learners and students with special needs did not post significantly different growth in the two kids of schools.

The full CREDO report is below:

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.