Connecticut’s Department of Education uses one standard for judging charter schools and a very different standard when it comes to the public schools in Connecticut’s 169 towns.
And considering the Connecticut Commissioner of Education’s close relationship with Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company that owns 20 schools in Connecticut and New York, the standard for charter schools is not only more lenient but rewards failure.
The following is a longer version of a commentary piece that ran in today’s Stamford Advocate and Bridgeport Post. It is co-written by fellow Public Education Advocate and blogger Wendy Lecker. You can read the shorter version here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-State-uses-double-standard-when-3741280.php#ixzz220uSbV5N
The State Department of Education’s Disturbing Double Standard;
Although our system of government demands the equal application of the law, Connecticut’s State Board of Education and Stefan Pryor, the State’s Commissioner of Education, recently revealed that there are actually two standards, one that applies to Connecticut’s district public schools and a very different standard that applies to the state’s charter schools.
Last month, SBE used one standard to reauthorize charter schools and a very different standard to take over the New London School System.
The State uses standardized tests and a measure called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) to track the percentage of children who reach the performance level of “proficiency.” Failure to make AYP for three years in a row labels a school or district as “low achieving” and the State can override the democratically elected board of education.
The state also examines “vertical scale scores;” a rough indicator of the “improvement” from year to year of the same group of children as they progress through grades.
Vertical scale scores track changes in test scores at all performance levels. Considering barriers to achievement, such as poverty, language barriers and special education needs, the vertical score system is a fairer view of student progress.
Nonetheless, Adequate Yearly Progress, not vertical scale scores, forms the basis of major decisions regarding the fate of a public school or district.
The New London case revealed the double standard. In New London, 93.8% of the children are eligible for free and reduced price lunch, 21.4% are English Language Learners, 13.5 % receive special education services, 30% did not attend preschool and 24.7% come from homes where English is not the primary language.
Despite that reality, the district has been flat funded for four years and the town now spends $900 less per student than do similar schools (those in the DRG I category.)
The state acknowledged that New London is in severe financial distress and many of its schools’ problems are the direct result of economic decline and poverty.
However, instead of providing New London with adequate funding, the state voted to undermine New London’s democratic rights by taking over the City’s schools.
Meanwhile, at the same meeting, the state reauthorized Trailblazers, Achievement First Bridgeport Academy and Stamford Academy .
Trailblazers, a charter middle scho0l spends thousands more per student than its host district, Stamford, and boasts very small class sizes, among other services it provides.
Judging by the same AYP standards the state used to takeover New London, Trailblazers is a “low achieving” school in need of corrective action. For the past six years it has been labeled “in need of improvement,” having only made AYP in 2003. In 2011 neither the whole school nor any subgroup made AYP in any subject. Its scores in sixth grade are below Stamford’s and the state in all CMT subjects. Its eighth grade scores declined in science and reading.
Ignoring AYP, SBE used Trailblazers’ vertical scale scores to overlook the need for corrective action. Claiming the charter serves disadvantaged children, the State asserted that “it is unrealistic that this school will achieve AYP.”
Declaring that Trailblazers is “contributing to closing the achievement gap,” it recommended full reauthorization.
Achievement First Bridgeport Academy since opening in 2008, has never made AYP. In 2011, only one subgroup, Latinos, made AYP in one subject. Neither the whole school nor any other subgroup made AYP.
However, not only did the State reauthorize Achievement First Bridgeport Academy, but it allowed the school to expand .
The State claimed Achievement First Bridgeport Academy demonstrated a better record of achievement then did Bridgeport’s public schools, but failed to note that Achievement First’s students are less poor, and face fewer language barriers and disabilities.
In Bridgeport Schools, 98.4% are eligible for free/reduced price lunch, 13.6% are English Language Learners, 40.4% come from homes where English is not the primary language and 12.4% receive special education services.
At Achievement First Bridgeport Academy, only 66% are eligible for free/reduced price lunch, 6% are English Language Learners, only 6% come from homes where English is not the primary language and only 8% receive special education services.
Achievement First also boasts much smaller class sizes than Bridgeport and spends more per child than Bridgeport public schools.
Nor did the state mention AFBA’s shrinking cohort, from 83 students in fifth grade to 65 in eighth. Not only does the shrinking cohort distort the vertical scale scores, but it raises serious questions about whether Achievement First pushed lower performing children out.
Stamford Academy charter high school also spends thousands more per student than Stamford’s schools and has small classes.
Stamford Academy, a high school, has never made AYP in its eight years. The school has shown no trend in improving scores in any subject. The schools math scores have been declining. Last year, 9.5 percent of the students reached proficiency in Math.
Yet the state unanimously granted reauthorization.
The state also overlooked the violations of all three schools of its teacher/administrator certification requirements.
Although these schools failed very the metric used to judge public schools, these charters were branded as “successes” and reauthorized.
New London scored well above Stamford Academy on its CAPTs. Its vertical scale scores were better than Trailblazers in reading. Furthermore, New London’s vertical scale scores for economically disadvantaged children in reading actually outpaced both Trailblazers and the state. Its reading scores at goal, the level higher than proficiency, in 5th grade were better than Achievement First, despite the fact that it serves a much needier population.
Despite these signs of success from a district in financial distress and serving a needy population, New London was not given any of the flexibility accorded the charter schools.
In fact, while the state bent over backwards to find a reason to reauthorize these charters, it went out of its way to justify the takeover of New London. Commissioner Pryor even used something called the District Performance Index to justify the takeover. He declared that New London has the fourth lowest District Performance Index and therefore a special master must be appointed.
But as he knew, the new DPI index didn’t even take effect until July 2012, weeks after he was using it as a reason to usurp the democratic rights of New London’s residents.
Decades of research support the notion that poverty, language barriers and disabilities affect achievement. The state’s decision to excuse charter schools for these factors while punishing public schools is manifestly unfair. Connecticut deserves a government that serves all children equally.
Wendy Lecker is a former president of the Stamford Parent Teacher Council and was staff attorney at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, plaintiffs in a school funding lawsuit in New York.