data points

Here is the IBO’s backfill information, sorted by charter network

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 12.38.21 PM

The trove of New York City charter-school data released by the Independent Budget Office this week answered a few questions about how schools replace students who leave, but raised many more.

Between 2008 and 2013, the report showed that a set of elementary schools filled seats that opened up between kindergarten and third grade, and most — though not all — filled seats that opened up in fourth and fifth grades. But which schools were which?

Chalkbeat readers wanted to know, especially since the IBO had ranked individual charter school networks by their schools’ average scores on state tests. “Why aren’t we seeing individual attrition and backfill rates or at least by network, as they did with the ‘performance’ rankings?” one commenter wrote on Monday.

We asked for a more detailed look at the “backfill” data, which the IBO provided and we’ve summarized in the tables above. The additional information sorts the data by charter network.

It is still a very limited slice of information about 53 charter schools with a kindergarten in 2008 and a fifth grade in 2013. (The city had 183 charter schools operating by 2013-14.) Middle and high schools were not included. And some schools have changed their policies in the seven years since this cohort of kindergarteners entered school.

But it is a rigorous look at what those schools did when students left, an issue that has divided charter leaders in the past. Most schools fill those seats with new students, though some restrict backfilling to younger grades. Recently, leaders within the sector and critics, including the city’s teachers union, have said that charter schools that don’t backfill are failing to serve their fair share of needy children, and that the tactic can be used to boost test scores. Some schools say restricting enrollment of older students is necessary for maintaining school culture and advanced academics.

The bigger networks, like Success Academy, have often been criticized for not backfilling, but the IBO’s more detailed data shows a divide among independent charter schools, too.

Nearly half of the independent charter schools filled less than 70 percent of their open seats when when the cohort of students was in fourth and fifth grade. Four Success Academy schools, one Achievement First school, and two schools affiliated with Victory Education Partners fit into that low-backfill category in older grades. (Achievement First spokeswoman Amanda Pinto noted that its schools now backfill their open seats.)

The IBO also looked at whether schools backfilled their seats over the entire six-year span. Half of the schools reached a 100 percent overall backfill rate between kindergarten and fifth grade, including the four Success Academy schools, even though their backfill rates were low in fourth and fifth grade.

Enrollment numbers from the state help explain that conclusion, showing that Success grew its cohort a sizable amount before third grade. Harlem Success Academy 2’s 2008 kindergarten class started with 106 students, grew to 135 students by third grade, then shrank back down to 100 students in fifth grade, for example.

Ann Powell, a spokeswoman for Success Academy, noted that the network typically opens schools with smaller cohorts and expands them as the school grows.

“In 2008, we had only two years’ experience of opening/operating schools,” Powell wrote in an email. “Most likely if you looked at any new organization in its first few years you might see patterns that would be different in later years.”

Ray Domanico, the IBO’s director of education research, cautioned that the more detailed information still should not be used to “make generalizations about the relationships among networks, backfill policies and student achievement.”

“The analysis to study those issues would be complicated,” Domanico said, “and would have to rely on student level analysis.”

defensor escolar

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.