Cross-Sector Support

Newark Public Schools wants more of its graduates to finish college. KIPP charter network wants to help.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy's graduation ceremony in June. KIPP will train guidance counselors from traditional Newark high schools in how to help students pick the right college.

A group of Newark Public Schools guidance counselors will travel to Texas next week to learn how to help high school students pick the right college. KIPP, the national charter school network, will lead the training.

The so-called “College Counseling Institute,” which will take place in San Antonio, marks the first formal partnership between the district and KIPP, which operates eight schools in Newark and 224 across the country. It signals that Newark’s new superintendent, Roger León, intends to follow through on his promise to foster collaboration between the two sectors — despite a vocal group of critics who see charter schools as siphoning students and resources from Newark’s traditional public schools.

“We are always looking to learn from innovative approaches with a track record of success,” León stated in a press release KIPP sent on Wednesday. “We have a talented, dedicated group of guidance counselors, and look forward to them receiving additional tools and training through the College Counseling Institute to help students select a college and career path that fits their needs.”

Staffers from three Newark high schools — American History, Central, and University — will attend the three-day training, alongside guidance counselors from the Miami-Dade County and New York City public school systems. Counselors from KIPP and another charter network, Aspire Public Schools, will also be at the free training, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Chalkbeat also receives funding from Gates.)

They will learn about a KIPP program called “College Match,” which the network says it hopes to spread to other charter and traditional schools. The idea is for high school counselors to help students make smart decisions about where to apply to college, based on how likely they are to be admitted, the schools’ graduation rates, available financial aid, and other “fit” factors, such as where the college is located and what majors it offers.

After next week’s training, the participants will reconvene several times throughout the school year and receive support from KIPP college counselors, the network said. According to KIPP, after its counselors in San Antonio supported their counterparts at a local traditional high school during the 2016–17 school year, the number of students at the traditional school who were accepted into four-year colleges more than doubled.

Typically, school districts track how many students graduate high school and apply to college. But increasingly they are monitoring how well their students fare further down the line.

In Newark Public Schools, the high-school graduation rate reached a record 78 percent in 2017. This year, more than 70 percent of graduating seniors are expected to attend two- or four-year colleges, according to the district.

Yet only a fraction of Newark’s graduates will complete college.

Among students who graduated from Newark’s traditional high schools in 2011, only about 13 percent earned a college degree or certificate within six years, according to a forthcoming report from the Newark City of Learning Collaborative
and the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark. Students who graduated from one of the district’s magnet schools, which admit students based on their academic records, had a much higher six-year college completion rate of 42 percent.

Among KIPP’s Newark students, about 38 percent of those who graduated high school in 2011 had earned a college degree within six years, the report found.

KIPP officials believe that one way to improve college completion among their former students is to steer them to colleges with track records of getting first-generation college students to graduate.

“How you go about the college application process can be worth 5 to 10 points in college graduation rates,” KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth told Education Post last year.

Newark’s counselors, however, will face serious constraints as they try to replicate KIPP’s college-match program.

At KIPP’s Newark high school, Newark Collegiate Academy, there are about 75 students for every counselor. In Newark Public Schools, according to state data, there are 600 students per counselor.

Update: This story was updated to reflect that the forthcoming college-outcomes report was a joint project of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative and Rutgers University-Newark.

appeals

Will charter schools rebuffed in Chicago find a savior in the state? Why the outlook is iffy.

At Moving Everest Charter School one recent morning, first-grade teacher Alexis Collins gestured proudly at her room of 15 students, all wearing oversize headphones and quietly peering at laptop screens loading a math program that would launch them into elementary computer programming.

“We start them off with coding, so by the time they are in eighth grade, they’ll know what a person with an associate’s degree would know,” Collins said.

The school is so confident that its controversial personalized learning program will help raise up children from struggling neighborhoods that its directors proposed opening a second campus.

But the Chicago school board, perhaps recognizing the shifting political tide, denied the proposal from Everest and two others seeking to open new charters, despite lobbying by supportive parents.

Now Moving Everest is pinning its hopes on an appeal to the Illinois State Charter Commission.

Another charter applicant also plans to appeal: Kemet Leadership Academy, which proposed a middle school for at-risk boys in Englewood. So do the operators of Kwame Nkrumah Academy, which the Chicago district ordered closed at the end of the school year.

Appeal plans are uncertain for two others: charter applicant Intrinsic, which sought to replicate its Level 1-plus campus with another citywide high school, and Urban Prep West, whose school was ordered closed. Neither Instrinsic nor Urban Prep West responded to requests for comment.

The state established the charter agency in 2011 to ensure quality in charter schools, and granted it the power to override local school boards’ rulings. Since then, charter school operators have regarded the state charter commission as a lifeline protecting them from hostile local school boards.

Its history with Chicago is contentious. The commission has overruled Chicago Public Schools  to approve opening two charter schools and to reopen four charters closed by the district — one of which later shut down. The state agency oversees and funds five charter schools now operating in Chicago.

Opponents chafe at the commission’s ability to override local decisions.

But circumstances have changed. The commission’s future is far from certain, meaning that charters rejected this month could have only a small window to win commission support before the administration, and possibly policies, change in Springfield.

Chicago tried to curb the commission’s authority by backing a state bill that would have stripped it of its right to reverse school district decisions. The bill passed, but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it last spring, and the Illinois Senate failed to override the veto.

But incoming governor J.B. Pritzker has pledged to place a moratorium on charter school expansion. His position on the charter commission is unclear. He earlier told Chalkbeat that good charter schools are “worthy of support” but that adequate funding for district schools should come before “expanding the opportunity for people to start charters.”

Now legislators have introduced a package of bills to rein in charter schools. Among other things, they would cap charter school expansion in financially struggling districts like Chicago and bar for-profit companies from running charters.

Could Everest win approval in time? Charter operators have 30 days from a denial to file an appeal. Then the commission has 75 days to rule.

The school hasn’t yet filed an appeal. But Michael Rogers, the founder of Moving Everest, said he isn’t ready to give up on expanding his school’s mission.

He’s not deterred by Everest’s Level 2-plus rating, not a stellar rank, from Chicago Public Schools. The school has 444 students in grades K through 4, and plans to grow year by year to eighth grade.

Rogers said that the school offers a unique learning environment. It also provides for its students in other ways, including offering dental and eye care.

“How do we interrupt the cycle of children growing up in this neighborhood who have a challenging instructional environment?” Rogers asked, adding he will tell the commission about the importance of investing in a struggling community.

In Austin, one of the city’s most under-invested neighborhoods, the large gray-and-green buildings that house Moving Everest school and its partner after-school “Christ-centered” program, By The Hand, stand our starkly against the nearby empty lots, run-down strip malls, and train tracks.

“We are thankful that the charter commission lives on, at least for the time being,” Rogers said. “We do believe that we have a strong school academically, financially. Our model is such that the community has spoken very loudly about or school.”

rules and regulations

Indiana education officials call for a crackdown on ‘too big to fail’ virtual schools

PHOTO: Manuel Breva Colmeiro/Getty Images

Nearly 10 years after virtual charter schools launched in Indiana, the fast-growing sector could face its first set of meaningful regulations aimed at cracking down on some of the state’s most problematic online schools.

In a 7-1 vote Wednesday, the Indiana State Board of Education recommended that state lawmakers impose stricter rules on virtual charter school and the agencies that oversee them. The proposed rules would stop school districts from overseeing virtual schools, eliminate a fee structure that officials say disincentivizes oversight agencies from intervening in struggling schools, and limit the growth of new and chronically underperforming virtual schools.

The recommendations would most affect two virtual charter schools that have been among Indiana’s largest and lowest-performing online schools: Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, which are overseen by the small Daleville school district.

The state board also suggests new requirements to improve student engagement — an issue for the schools since students work remotely — including setting minimum student-to-teacher ratios and making an orientation mandatory before students are allowed to enroll in virtual schools. And the board calls for virtual education programs in traditional public school districts to follow similar rules as virtual charter schools.

“We’ve seen a very poor return on investment of taxpayer money for virtual education,” said board member Gordon Hendry, who led the examination of virtual charter schools. “There’s little regard for student outcomes, and virtual charters perform worse than the worst of brick-and-mortar schools.”

It remains to be seen how lawmakers might act on the recommendations in the legislative session that starts in January. Even after Gov. Eric Holcomb called for action on Indiana’s failing virtual charter schools following a Chalkbeat investigation, lawmakers declined to act last year on bills aimed at improving them.

But, since then, Indiana’s virtual charter schools have attracted more attention, with their poor performance falling under the spotlight in a Congressional committee and a new virtual school making last-minute changes to its model after another Chalkbeat investigation into its oversight.

The leader of Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, Percy Clark, criticized the state board’s recommendations as being contradictory. He said that because the state funds virtual charter schools at lower levels than brick-and-mortar schools, capping enrollment would prevent schools from being able to afford prescribed teacher-student ratios.

Clark also raised concerns that more rules would interfere with virtual charter schools’ ability to innovate by “forcing virtual schools to comply with traditional standards.”

Still, Hendry touted the recommendations as a critical step to setting “guardrails” for Indiana’s troubled virtual charter schools, which serve about 13,000 students and have consistently posted dismally low test scores and graduation rates.

He came down particularly hard on authorizers, the oversight agencies tasked with monitoring virtual charter schools and stepping in when schools struggle.

“I think there should be a vote of ‘no confidence,’” Hendry said, blaming authorizers for not holding virtual charter schools accountable. He said the money flowing to authorizers of virtual schools causes “a significant conflict of interest” since it’s not in the authorizers’ financial interest to close or limit the growth of schools, making them essentially “too big to fail.”

But the board balked at suggesting that a single authorizer oversee all virtual charter schools — a proposal that Hendry said came out of looking at laws in Colorado, Maine, and Oklahoma, and recommendations from national organizations such as the National Association for Charter School Authorizers and the conservative Fordham Institute.

Board member Katie Mote said that would “push too far,” raising concerns about limiting Indiana’s school choice environment.

Among the board members supporting the proposed regulations was Byron Ernest, the former head of three online schools under the Hoosier Academies network. That included Hoosier Academy Virtual School, Indiana’s first virtual charter school, which closed this year after years of failing grades.