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April 28, 2009

Sizing up Baltimore's charter schools

Here's the report on Baltimore charter schools that I write about in today's newspaper. Not surprisingly, the report found that academic performance at the city's charters varies significantly. Climate-wise, they seem to be better than regular city schools, especially at the middle school level. We've always known that charter students (except those at neighborhood conversion charters that take the place of zoned schools) have an inherent advantage because their parents are making a choice and seeking out a quality option on their behalf. Now we know how that translates: The charters have fewer special ed, over-age and free/reduced lunch students than regular schools do. As a whole, they're also more racially diverse, though there are examples of charters that are almost completely segregated and charters that are almost perfectly integrated. One finding that was a little surprising: There aren't many students coming to the charters from out of the system, though seven schools are the exception to that and draw students who wouldn't be attending city public schools otherwise.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Baltimore City, Charter Schools, Study, study!


It's really hard to look at this post, and the associated article, without thinking the whole point is to stir up bad feelings towards charter schools as a group. While the study's author said "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense at this point to speak of charters as a whole," and "They're very, very different and need to stand on their own merits" the article and this post make very little effort to point up individual school's merits and weaknesses.

When you summarize a 58 page report to a one page newspaper article, clearly some data will be lost. To my mind the complexity measuring performance and the performance of specific schools needs to be emphasized. For example, special education is of particular intrest to me. Pages 9 and 10 of the report bring up issues related to LRE codes and the ability to better include special needs students in general education settings when schools and classrooms are smaller and have more diversified instruction. The idea is that a school that wants to include students will have higher numbers of LRE A and LRE B students than a school that happily pushes students into separate settings more often and thus has more LER C students. Does this mean that non charters serve more needy special Ed students or that they are less willing to include them into general classroom. It's a complicated question that probably has different answers through the charter school community. That got summarized to "The city's charter schools serve fewer special education students." This just reinforces that concept that charter schools don't take special ed students that I've heard so often on the comments on this blog.

I'm happy that the Sun has education stories, but skimming the surface like this is doesn't do the issues justice.

This is such a great start to have this data, and I don't want to get too geeky, but with data like this, you have to present levels of significance, otherwise, the variation can be due to chance.

Without knowing the level of significance, the data can be used to make claims that aren't fair. For example, the report states that "Analyses reveal that students who leave charter schools are 1-2 percentage points slightly more likely to require special education services than those who stay. For example, 11.7% of students who left charters required special education, compared to 10.1% who stay." (p 21). But is this 1.6 percentage point truly a difference or is it due to chance?

It just seems like all of the "report highlights" have to be viewed slightly skeptically unless levels of significance are reported.

As far back as SY2004-2005 I sat on a advisory board at the begining of established policy and implementing by school board vote discussions statrted for opening charter schools in our district. It was clear we've always known that charter students, academic performance would peak upward bound at the city's charters significantly. Climate wise, the area of focus is not suprising that they seem to be variously better than general regular education city zone and community site schools, especially at the secondary level.

Factors included are more parent input and the climate of ownership sprit, flexibility in participating in the planing for the schools cirricular and instruction, classroom core course and visual/arts programs model, and decisions weights for input regarding hired staffing models, including classroom teachers, and the administrators brought on board at the charter school.

The initial begining model of charter schools did not include special ed, over-age and free/reduced lunch students. As a whole, the charter school design accommodated also to more of the parents with characteristic that wanted inter-city charter school education that are almost completely segregated by prestige status class levels and charter schools that are almost perfectly integrated balanced. This initial being was achieved by the make up of the development or refinement selected charter school boards parents racially diverse (or the lack there of) componet make up. "City Public Charter Schools in the inter-city indeed draw students who wouldn't be attending city public schools otherwise."

On the flip side now the general education regular schools both primary/secondary now have in place the Fair Student Funding (FSF) model system the same model as our public charter schools have.

In other words AAA has created a Free Market System in Baltimore City for Parents and Students. But in my opinion currently Parents and Community Members are being Ripped Off in being provided Insufficent and Inadequate school system operations budget advisory team field training by a Inexperienced lack of any practical school budget knowledge central office staff team. They have no how to intellegent and practical experience, function, or knowledge in providing real site school core course classroom planning skill set and no financial school operations budget, school academic resources budget, skill set for teaching input techniques and parents are being denied the methods of how to meaningfully function and participate in on the school budget process, and any planning manner in which is done with seasoned administrators, staff teachers and department heads at all City Schools. The parents will be by design behind on the knowledge, methods, and techniques ways in which the education budget planning world operates.
In my opinion this is being carried out by design.

I&EP - I don't think there's any design behind your thoughts. You do present a good point, the central office needs to devise a way to be more prepared to handle the enormous tasks associated with these reforms. I don't think there's anyone there that's 100% satisfied with the level of implementation. That's not at all to say people aren't thrilled about the start-up of the new reforms. The problem is that there are SO many moving pieces, and new + old staff are trying to figure out how to juggle the day-to-day while implementing completely new and revolutionary ideas. We often hear about times when the ball is dropped, not quite as much when things are going smoothly.

Your critique is well-served, though. And it's important to continually bring it up. Folks involved in journalism and citizen/parent involvement should be focused on challenging the status quo and demanding the best. As frustrated as it makes me, the schools system needs to know its weaknesses in order to provide the most effective service. It's like a NFL team, you can have a record-breaking offense, but if your corner backs are terrible on defense, you can only make it so far.

@ InsideEd Bill

Rookie keep reading your play book and keep up with your InsideED ocular learning. Not ready for InsideEd prime time.

A parent: I'm sorry you feel that way. I did think the headline to the story (which I didn't write -- reporters never do) made the article look more negative than it is. Stirring up bad feelings for charters certainly was not my intent. Unfortunately, in the current climate of the newspaper industry, we would almost never be able to cover anything if we weren't just "skimming the surface." My article could not have been one word longer than it was. That's why I'm grateful for the blog, to explore issues in greater depth and to provide access to full reports for those like you who want to explore the complexities. And even though the report's author says you can't group charters together, that's what the whole report does. I tried to highlight the major conclusions but included that quote so people would understand that there's a lot of variation.

A Parent, you're shooting (or at least complaining to) the messenger. Statistics nationwide resoundingly demonstrate that charter schools serve far fewer special-education students than do non-charter public schools. There's no way to pretty that information up.

Of course these points (below) are obvious, but the charter folks deny them and deny them. Thanks for clarifying. It takes a veteran education reporter, too -- so many newbies are dazzled and duped by the bounteously funded charter PR:

"We've always known that charter students (except those at neighborhood conversion charters that take the place of zoned schools) have an inherent advantage because their parents are making a choice and seeking out a quality option on their behalf. Now we know how that translates: The charters have fewer special ed, over-age and free/reduced lunch students than regular schools do."

@Caroline Grannan -
It is in fact much more complicated than that in Baltimore City (I've got no idea about your city - San Francisco). The typical neighborhood schools do a horrendous job at educating special ed students in general, as evidenced by the court ruling against City Schools and the large number of non-public placements. I do not believe that you read/understood my original post, so let me try to make my point again.

If you base how well you are serving special ed students based on the number of more restrictive placements in a school (LRE C) you are saying that a school that works for full inclusion of a child with the same level of disability in an LRE A or LRE B placement is not as inclusive of special needs students. I believe the opposite is true - the LRE C setting excluding a special needs student from spending the majority of his/her time in the classroom and putting them pull out and segregated classes.

I'm not saying that this example this is the case in all charter schools, but it is in some. If you want to say a specific school does better or worse than the school system as a whole in terms of special ed you are going to have to do a study which does more than just count the number and level of LRE students.

I get no funding from anybody to have an opinion about charter schools. I'm just trying as hard as I can to find an inclusive placement for a special needs student that lives up to the potential of inclusive education - a place where kids are "learning together to live together"

@Sara Neufeld -
I understand space/time/budget limitations, and it's a shame. Education seems to me to be predominately a local issue and if we value it we should value in-depth local reporting on the subject. National publications (such as EdWeek) seem to be geared to the education professional and they miss the local detail. I'd pay for a Baltimore City Education journal if you want to start one.

a parent,

I agree that serving more students in a less restrictive environment is good, and charter schools should be commended for this.

However, does this address the concern that charter schools serve fewer special education students than non-charter schools (regardless of LRE level)?

I don't think the post or article is negative toward charters - it seems quite neutral in tone to me. Though perhaps more detail is warranted. I like the idea of a Baltimore education journal!

Sara,I appreciate the state of newspapers today.I subscribe to three a day.I also appreciate that you link us to reports that we may or may not see.A parent has a good idea about a journal but I think this blog with links could be nearly as effective. My only request is for bloggers to try to get to the point coherently and exercise civility.I am finding myself less engaged trying to wallow through rambling, confusing posts and negative digs back and forth.How was the board meeting tonight? Awaiting your reactions.

I don't know because I'm a young Puerto Rican male at a Baltimore City charter school. Before I came here I was at a mostly white (about 85%) elementary and middle school in Baltimore County. I don't think I perform better than a person who has gone to city school all their life.

I don't think that the opening statement of this article is accurate because I don't come from a prviledged home because my mother is out of work and on unemployment and we are struggling to keep the lights on in the house. I transferred from a zone school when I was in the 8th grade. All I had to do was to come to maths for an interview and take a placement test. By next school year I was in MATHS. Even though I go to a charter school I still have problems at home, sometimes my mother doesn't have enough money to pay the BGE bill so our lights would be cut off.

I dont belive That The Opening Statements Are True.I Stand By My Opinion Because In Some Charter Schools They Are Just As Bad As Some Public/City Schools,I Say This Because In Public Schools Or In Some City Wide Schools There Are Fights,Arguements,Weapons Such As Knives,Guns,and There Is Racial Comments.Most Of The Things I Listed Are In Charter Schools So I Really Dont Think People Can Compare A Charter School With Other Schools,Because Some Are Just The Same.

Another effect of charter schools is detailed in the COMAR report on the closing schools. Dunbar Middle lost 40% of its enrollement in one school year. One of the factors cited was the lost of incoming sixth grade students to two nearby charter schools. While some would say this is competition, others would say that the nw car smell of of BDJ and Crossroads has a lot to play in this case. So I wonder, how many more traditional schools will be closed because of the rapid expansion of charters.

I think that even though most of the African-American and Hispanic students in the urban area are most likely to drop out that does not mean they should be deprived of a college prep education. I feel as though if they drop out that is their problem and they are screwed, and if they go to a vocational school they are still screwed as well. What if later on down the line they decide they want to go to college? They don't have the proper knowledge to succeed. Or what if they decide they want to start their own business? They might not know how to run it because they have gotten used to doing a specific trade for such a long time.
I think that they should have the best of both worlds, meaning all high schools should prepare you for college and let you take up a trade. That way you can have a choice whether you want to go to college or not. I think they should motivate us to finish school and go to college. Most teachers act like they don't care so that makes the students not care.They should encourage the young adults; because that is what they are and stop treating "urban" and "suburban" schools differently. I think that everyone is the same and all of the school systems should treat us the same.
You can go to a school in the urban neighborhoods and be at the top of your class, and then you can move in the county and go to a county school and be behind in your classes. That is because the school system in the urban areas teah you on a basic level. Then when you try to go to a very good high school you don't get the work and want to drop out. NO! If they teach us allon the same level we wouldn't have that problem. Instead of the school system trying to make excuses and waste money opening different kinds of schools they should just add trades in college prep schools.
The whole vocational idea is good, but I think they should think about it more and put trades and college prep together. Only WE know OUR future. and ONLY WE can make or break OUR future. THEY can HELP by giving us the materials that we need. But at the end on the day it isn't up to anyone but US!

I think this article is true because how all of a sudden kids are dropping out of school.So most charter school kids are more likely to stay in school because charter schools are not overwhelming like regular schools. City schools give you loads of work and they want you to do what they want even though you have a little bit more freedom than charter schools.

I don't think charter school students all come from advantaged backgrounds. The other statement is true, we do have fewer special education students, and over-age students who have repaeated a grade. We do have better attendance, but I don't think they should us all the glory. There are so many problems in the school that people do not know about. Yes, we may come to school, but it's boring in some of the classes. One of the main reasons we act out is because, there's no excitement, and we have have to make it exciting. Half the time we come to school because of our friends and certain teachers. It shouldn't be that way but it is.

NO! Charter school students do not come from a more advantage background because maybe a student that go to a charter school have a sibling or family member that go to a city school,And they come from the same background .So how can you say people that go to a charter school have an advantage because of their priviledged background ? Like your life background should not determine what school you attend.I say this because you can be the richest person and go to a public school. Also you can be a child on welfare and go to a private school. So what do you think determines what school a person go to? Their family background or the grades they get.

Every child's family isnt always in kids educational lives. Personally my sister really didnt care what school i went to. She just didnt want me to go to Thurgood. My best friend's mother sign me and my best friend up for MATHS. My sister really didnt know what school i was going to until my best friend's mother told her.

I don't agree because many people don't come from advantage backgrounds. those from the charter schools come from the same backgrounds as the ones from public schools. before there ever were new charter schools, we were in those public schools, usually all black or a little hispanic. not everybody have the same problems and deal with the same situations

There's a big difference between Baltimore City public schools and Baltimore City Charter schools. The main reason is the academic level is more advanced then public schools. The student to teacher ratio is also one of the better things about charter schools. Trade schools are also important in the community. All students may not can afford college, or even want to go to a four year college. But for the ones that do by attending a trade school, you will recieve special education for a specific task or talent. Maybe that should be brought up at the next board meeting. A public charter trade school combining the more advanced academic level with the concentration of one subject such as in a trade school. Maybe there can be conversation of building a charter/trade public high school in the future.

By mentioning that there are "fewer special ed, over-age, and free/reduced lunch students," after discussing climate - it may be misconstrued that you were implying that reducing those populations made the schools' climates better overall. Let's remember that all students are entitled to FAPE.

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