Mobility Report

City reveals elusive data for 13 charter schools: How many students leave each year

City education officials released data on Monday that until now has been hard to come by: The number and percentage of students who leave some of its charter schools during the school year.

The city’s reports, released Monday to the Board of Regents, only include data for 13 charter schools. But they show wide variation in average student mobility rates at those schools, from under 5 percent of students leaving between the 2010-11 and 2013-14 school years to more than 21 percent, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of the data. The numbers represent a win for the Board of Regents, which has long been pushing for more transparency around charter school enrollment.

The numbers also provide new fodder for a long-simmering debate around charter school enrollment patterns. Critics of charter schools have said one reason that some charter schools outperform district schools on state tests is because a larger number of their students — typically the ones who are the least academically proficient — leave during the school year. Those students usually end up in a nearby district school, and charter schools aren’t required to replace students they lose.

One of those critics is Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who said last year, “There shouldn’t be a whole movement out of charters the month before the test.”

But the limited student mobility data challenges that argument, to a degree. The schools with the highest average mobility rates over the past four years are also the ones that are performing the worst academically.

At Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School, for instance, just 10 percent of students were proficient on the state English exam and 13 percent were proficient in math. But the school lost an average of 21 percent of its students in each of the past four years, the most of any other school on the report.

The school with the second-highest attrition rate was Imagine Me Leadership Charter School, with 19 percent attrition. The city recommended that both schools only receive a 1.5-year renewal, which means they could be closed at the end of the 2015-16 school year if they do not improve.

A third school recommended for a probationary renewal, Lefferts Gardens Charter School, had a 15 percent average student attrition.

Democracy Prep Harlem Charter School, for which the city recommended a longer-term renewal, also showed high mobility, with an average of almost 19 percent of students leaving each year. The school lost nearly 30 percent of its students during the 2012-13 school year.

Still, the reports lack several valuable insights. While they show what percentage of students left a charter school in each of the last four school years, it does not say how those numbers compare to average student attrition in district schools.

The reports also don’t say whether those students were replaced, an issue that has divided the charter school sector, or indicate whether the exiting students were less proficient academically.

You can read the full report here.

Four-year average student attrition rates (2010-11 — 2013-14 school years)
Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science: 21.1%
Imagine Me Leadership: 19%
Democracy Prep Harlem: 18.9%
Hyde Leadership — Brooklyn: 15.8%
Leffert Gardens: 15.2%
Bed-Stuy New Beginnings: 14.4%
Bushwick Ascend: 13.1%
Renaissance Charter HS for Innovation: 13%
Rochdale Early Advantage: 12.3%
Hellenic Classical: 8.9%
Inwood Leadership: 5.6%
Riverton Street: 4.8%

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.