course correction

For some charters, 2012 reading test gains began with a struggle

Two years ago, just one in three students at Achievement First Bushwick were rated “proficient” on the state’s reading tests. It wasn’t exactly the kind of result promised from a high-performing charter school in a “no excuses” network.

But the school has nearly doubled that rate in the two years since, according to state test scores released Tuesday. On the 2012 English language arts test, nearly 60 percent of students at the school were rated proficient, compared to 47 percent of students citywide.

Bushwick’s gains on the reading tests were among the largest made in the charter sector, which improved as a whole by seven percentage points, from 44.5 percent to 51.5 percent.  The improvement — from matching the citywide average to scoring well above it — has provided fodder for charter school advocates and the Bloomberg administration to push back against critics who oppose the expansion of charter schools across the state.

“Policy makers and legislators should take note” of the gains, said Bill Phillips, president of the New York Charter Schools Association.”It’s not only a tougher measure than the host district comparison, it suggests that districts across the state should consider charters as another tool to better educate children.”

“We can’t possibly handle the demand from parents for the charter schools,” Mayor Bloomberg said during a press conference Tuesday. “They’re just off the charts.”

Several charter operators announced their schools’ test scores in celebratory press releases Tuesday. Deborah Kenny touted the eighth-grade math and reading scores at her schools, the Harlem Village Academies. The Success Academy network announced a 7-point gain in reading proficiency across its four schools with testing grades, more than twice the citywide improvement rate. And Democracy Prep said the low-performing charter school it took over last year had posted the largest reading proficiency gains of any school in the state, with third-grade reading proficiency hurtling from 28 percent in 2011 to 63 percent this year.

The charter school sector wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic to promote its gains two years ago, when reading scores slumped. Struggles to boost literacy were not unique to Achievement First Bushwick.Across the city, the charter school sector had stalled on boosting student performance. In 2010, 42 percent of students scored proficient on the state reading tests, virtually identical to the city’s district average. The results were not what the charter sector had hoped for at a time when when advocates were trying to make the case that more charter schools were necessary in the city and state.

After last year’s results barely budged, many charter school leaders realized they had to change their approach.

“I know that people put in a very hard look at this time last year and said we’re not getting the job done,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center, an organization that advocates for and offers support to charter schools.

One of those schools was Achievement First Bushwick, where scores on the reading tests were low enough that its authorizer slapped the school with a shortened charter renewal. Principal Amy D’Angelo told GothamSchools last year that in response to its 2010 test scores, it began overhauling its approach to teaching literacy.

“AF Bushwick launched an intensive effort to strength curriculum and instruction in ELA and services for ELL students,” D’Angelo told us last year. She said she had hired an English specialist to work independently with students who struggled the most on reading and writing.

In her press release, Kenny also said her schools had bolstered instruction to meet higher standards on the test. “As the tests have become more difficult, our teachers have developed and improved instructional strategies to help all students reach their highest potential,” she said.

One of the criticisms about charter schools is that they don’t serve comparable numbers of students with high needs, an assessment that was largely supported by a report that Merriman’s office released earlier this year. So far, disaggregated charter school data for these types of students aren’t available.

But in a press release after the test scores were announced, Merriman noted that the schools do serve groups of students who typically have lower test scores. “Even though New York City charter schools serve students who are overwhelmingly disadvantaged economically and largely African-American and Hispanic, they are proficient in math at nearly the same rate as white students are across New York,” he wrote.

For now, the Charter Center has put together a useful interactive tool to browse the latest performance of charter schools. The scatter graph shows how each school performed on both the English and the math tests. Schools located high up in the right quadrant had the highest combined proficiency rates. We took the numbers one step further and added the proficiency rates for each school to determine which ones performed the best for both subjects.

Here’s the list of the top-10 scoring charter schools. Their combined proficiency is in parentheses:

1. Icahn Charter School 4 (195)
2. Icahn Charter School 2 (192.4)
3. Success Academy 1 (187.4)
4. Success Academy 4 (185.9)
5. Success Academy 3 (184)
6. Bronx Charter School for Excellence (182)
7. Success Academy 2 (178.6)
8. Williamsburg Collegiate (157)
9. Icahn Charter School (166)
10. Brooklyn Ascend (153)

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union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff
Elementary students at Moving Everest charter school read about fossils.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a  cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less five year olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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