charter kids go to college

Do ‘no-excuses’ charter schools lead to success after high school? At one high-profile network, the answer seems to be yes

PHOTO: YouTube / Noble Network

Many so-called “no-excuses” charter schools — often featuring longer school days, intensive tutoring, and strict discipline — have high test scores. But critics often say those scores are unlikely to translate into outcomes that really matter, like getting through college.

This debate is far from over, but a new study offers evidence that attending the Chicago-based Noble charter network does help students succeed after high school.

Authors Matthew Davis and Blake Heller compared students who got a seat at Noble’s original high school through a lottery to those who applied but lost. They find that attending Noble meant a student was 10 percentage points more likely to enroll in college and stay for at least four semesters.

Noble’s students were also much more likely to go to more selective and four-year colleges, where other research has shown students are more likely to ultimately graduate.

“The increase in [college] quantity did not come at the expense of quality,” Davis and Heller write.

One big caveat: there was no statistically significant effect on college graduation, so it’s not clear whether how many students at Noble’s first school made it all the way through their undergraduate years. This may be due to limited data, since the researchers were only able to track a small number of students for four years after high school.

Still, the data is good news for the network, which now has 18 campuses and enrolls more than 12,000 students — about 10 percent of Chicago public high school students. (Noble has recently been in the news as some teachers, who have pushed to form a union, accused the network of illegally blocking organizing efforts, a charge the leaders have denied.)

The researchers can’t make the same claims about all of Noble’s schools as they do about its original campus. As the network expanded, many schools weren’t oversubscribed and so did not hold lotteries, which means students can’t be compared in the same way. But using a less rigorous approach, the researchers estimate that Noble students in more recent years and at more schools maintained a big advantage in college enrollment.

“The best evidence we can muster indicates that Noble students continue to outperform expectations even during the network’s rapid expansion,” the researchers wrote.

One key question is why Noble charter schools seem to be succeeding. Past research has linked certain common charter school practices, like intense tutoring and longer school days, to higher test scores. A follow-up study showed that those practices, when paired with a notable infusion of cash, led to achievement gains in district schools in Chicago, Denver, and Houston.

But a concern is that the positive effects seen at Noble may also be due to practices that can’t — or shouldn’t — be scaled.

For instance, the study shows that 60 percent of students applying to Noble’s original high school were female. This is even more extreme than the national trend in charter schools to enroll more girls than boys. (Notably, the long-run gains from attending Noble appeared to apply equally to both boy and girls.)

The authors also note that Noble previously imposed financial penalties on students: “Students with twelve or more detentions were required to cover fees totaling $140 for a behavior-improvement class.” Noble ended the widely criticized practice in 2014, though their approach to school discipline remains the subject of scrutiny.

Meanwhile, prior studies on “no-excuses” charter schools and students’ longer-term success have been more of a mixed bag.

In Boston, charter high schools boosted students’ test scores and four-year college enrollment, but actually decreased on-time high school graduation rates.

In Texas, “no-excuses” charters led to higher college enrollment and persistence, but did not have a statistically significant impact on earnings as an adult. (Other charters in the state had negative effects on test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings.)

In New York City, a Harlem Children’s Zone charter school decreased rates of incarceration (for boys) and teen pregnancy (for girls). It also increased college enrollment rates, though not students’ likelihood of staying in college.

And in Chicago, consistent with the latest research, charter high schools led students to graduate from high school and enroll in college at higher rates.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to research on Democracy Prep charter schools in New York City. In fact, the study was of a Harlem’s Children’s Zone charter school in New York City.

money matters

In first meeting since November election, the board of Regents eyes budget for New York schools

PHOTO: Chalkbeat file photo
New York State capitol

New York’s education policymakers, gathering in Albany this week, are expected to decide how much money they will request for school funding from the state legislature.

Members of the state Board of Regents have spent the past several months discussing where state education dollars are most needed next fiscal year. And while their request will help guide lawmakers as they hash out a spending plan by the April 1 deadline, the final dollar amount is out of the hands of the Regents or other state education department officials.

Last budget cycle, the board requested a funding increase of $1.6 billion, which was lower than what they had asked for the year before. State lawmakers subsequently passed a budget that included a $1 billion increase for education — still significantly short of what the Regents had called for.

“So what they ask is really a matter of their public position, having nothing to do with what the ultimate delivery is going to be from the governor and the legislature,” said David Bloomfield, a professor of education, law and public policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Once again this year, a core priority for the Regents is increasing funding for “foundation aid,” which is a formula that sends extra dollars to high-poverty school districts and contributes about a third of the state education funding for New York City.

Other budget priorities include focusing on high-quality early childhood education, English language learners and the implementation of the state’s plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, also known as ESSA, which will determine how the state will support and evaluate schools.

The meeting is the first since the results of November’s election, which shifted control of the New York state legislature to Democrats. Given that many newly-elected state senators are political progressives who campaigned on boosting school funding, the Regents could see an opening to press for more money for schools than they have in the past. But how quickly lawmakers can or will deliver on these promises remains to be seen.

In other business, the Regents will look at a proposal Monday to extend the moratorium that excludes state English and math test scores from metrics used to evaluate New York teachers. Chancellor Betty Rosa announced last month that state education officials want to continue speaking with teachers, principals, and others who may wish to weigh in on the issue — which has long been politically charged — before making any final decisions about the state’s teacher evaluation system.

portfolio push

The City Fund’s next steps: These 7 cities are the focus of the biggest new education player

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Buses head out on their routes at the Denver Public Schools Hilltop Terminal November 10, 2017. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

A new group that’s raised millions to promote its brand of school reform has begun spending that money in seven cities — and its staff may be planning to try to influence elections, too.

The City Fund has already given grants to organizations and schools in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Newark, Denver, San Antonio, St. Louis, and Nashville, according to one of the group’s founders, Neerav Kingsland. Those grants amount to $15 million of the $189 million the group has raised, he told Chalkbeat.

City Fund staffers have also founded a 501(c)(4) organization called Public School Allies, according to an email obtained by Chalkbeat, which Kingsland confirmed. That setup will allow the group’s members to have more involvement in politics and lobbying, activities limited for traditional nonprofits.

The details — some first reported by The 74 on Sunday — offer the latest insight into the ambitions of The City Fund, which is looking to push cities across the U.S. to expand charter schools and district schools with charter-like autonomy.

The $15 million that’s already been spent has mostly gone to local groups, Kingsland said.

In Denver, the recipient is RootED, a nonprofit that launched about a year ago. RootED’s head Nate Easley said his organization has issued roughly $3 million in grants, partially based on money from The City Fund. Some of that has gone to community groups that organized parents to speak out about the city’s superintendent search. Other money has gone directly to charter schools and district schools that are part of Denver’s innovation zones, which mean they are overseen by a nonprofit organization and that teachers can vote to waive parts of the labor contract.

Easley’s approach is consistent with The City Fund’s favored policies, sometimes called the “portfolio model.” In their ideal scenario, parents would be able to choose among schools that have autonomy to operate as they see fit, including charter schools. In turn, schools are judged by outcomes (which usually means test scores). The ones deemed successful are allowed to grow, and the less-successful ones are closed or dramatically restructured.

A version of that strategy is already in place in Denver and Indianapolis. Those cities have large charter sectors and enrollment systems that include both district and charter schools In others, like San Antonio, Atlanta, and Camden, struggling district schools have been turned over to charter operators.

The City Fund’s Newark grant is more of a surprise. Although the district has implemented many aspects of the portfolio model, and seen charter schools rapidly grow since a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Newark hasn’t been a magnet of national philanthropy recently. That may be because the changes there sparked vehement community protest, and the district recently switched to an elected school board.

Charter advocates in Nashville, meanwhile, have faced setbacks in recent years, losing several bitter school board races a few years ago. A pro-charter group appears to have folded there.

Kingsland said The City Fund has given to The Mind Trust in Indianapolis; RootED in Denver; City Education Partners in San Antonio; the Newark Charter School Fund and the New Jersey Children’s Foundation; The Opportunity Trust in St. Louis; and RedefinED Atlanta. In Nashville, The City Fund gave directly to certain charter schools.

The seven cities The City Fund has given to are unlikely to represent the full scope of the organization’s initial targets. Oakland, for instance, is not included, but The City Fund has received a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for work there. The presentation The City Fund made for potential funders earlier this year says the organization expects to reach 30 to 40 cities in a decade or less.

“We will make additional grants,” Kingsland said in an email. “But we don’t expect to make grants in that many more cities. Right now we are focused on supporting a smaller group of local leaders to see if we can learn more about what works and what doesn’t at the city level.”

Chalkbeat previously reported that the Hastings Fund, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Dell Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were funding the effort. The Walton Family Foundation and the Ballmer Group are also funders, Kingsland said. (The Gates Foundation and Walton Family Foundation are also funders of Chalkbeat.)

The organization had told prospective donors that it had raised over $200 million. Kingsland said Sunday that $189 million is the correct figure.

As the group expands its influence, it will have to contend with the fact that the portfolio model approach has proven deeply controversial, especially where it has led to the closure of traditional public schools and the expansion of non-unionized alternatives.

It’s gained particular traction in a number of cities, like Newark, Camden, and New Orleans, while they were under state control. In Denver and Indianapolis, cities where the approach has maintained support with elected school boards, supporters faced setbacks in recent elections. Public School Allies may work to address and avoid such political hurdles.

The academic success of the approach remains up for debate. Supporters point to research showing large gains in New Orleans, as well as evidence that in many cities, charter schools outperform district counterparts. Critics note that gains in New Orleans also came with a huge infusion of resources, and that results elsewhere have been more tepid.

Kingsland told The 74 that other approaches to school reform might also have merit — but he’s prepared to stand by his strategy.

“It’s possible that personalized learning, early childhood education, increased public funding, or a deeper focus on integration could be the best way to make public education better. Or perhaps the best way to increase student learning is to address poverty directly by giving poor families more money,” he said.

“While I don’t think our strategy is at odds with any of these approaches, it is possible that our effort is just not the right focus. I don’t think this is true, but it could be.”