District-by-district school survey demonstrates how — despite current state law — charters fail to admit and retain pupils with the highest needs
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, joined by elected officials, teachers and parents, today released a district-by-district study of New York City charter schools that showed charters fall far short of enrolling and keeping the neediest and hardest-to-educate students in the city.
Mr. Mulgrew said:
"In school after school, district after district, many charters do not enroll appropriate numbers of English language learners, the poorest and highest-need special ed pupils, and homeless children. In addition, the schools often post suspension rates that can be 10 times higher than public schools in the same neighborhood.
Governor Cuomo has proposed raising the current cap on charter schools and a law that would forbid charters from 'creaming' the best students. But dozens of charter schools have been ignoring an existing 2010 state law that already requires them to enroll and retain a student body comparable to those attending local public schools. The cap should not be lifted unless and until charters meet their obligation to all our children."
Pattern of discrimination is unmistakable
These charts give the average percentages of English language learners (ELL); total special education students (Students with Disabilities); special education students in self-contained classrooms; and students in temporary housing in charter and traditional public elementary and K-8 schools in the city’s Community School Districts.UFT says Cuomo’s proposed requirements for charter schools are too little, too late
These charts show how many of the city’s highest-need students are enrolled in each district and charter school in each of the city’s Community School Districts.
The discrepancy is glaring, even among district and charter schools that share the same building.
Charter school suspension rates: Way above most district averages
Many charter schools, in particular the larger chains, suspend students at rates well in excess of their home-district averages, rates that would trigger an investigation if they were logged by traditional public schools.
Charter school parents complain that their children are repeatedly suspended, or subject to disproportionate punishments, until the family finally withdraws the child from the school.
These tables compare suspension rates of charter schools located in each of the 32 school districts with their district averages. The numbers are for 2011-12, the most recent available. The data come from the New York State Education Department School Report Cards database.
Analysis uses Bloomberg administration's peer index
Recognizing the educational challenges represented by children in poverty, who are not fluent in English or have other special needs, the Bloomberg administration — even as it relentlessly encouraged the growth of charter schools — built a citywide methodology designed to look past simple comparisons of average school scores on state tests.
Since the presence of children with such challenges tends to lower average scores on standardized tests, the administration’s "peer index" compared every school with 20 or so other schools with similar levels of student poverty, English Language Learners, special ed students and other categories.
The original weighting formula for elementary school comparisons had four main components: English Language Learners; total special ed students; number of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch; and black or Hispanic students. (Each category contributed 30 percent to the overall algorithm, except ELLs, which counted for 10 percent.)
Since the original algorithm was created, new and more specific information has become available for schools, which has allowed the UFT to refine the formula to help it more accurately compare the student bodies of separate schools.
The refined formula retains the 30 percent for black or Hispanic students, uses 20 percent for all special ed students, adds an additional 20 percent for special ed students who need self-contained classrooms; and alters the poverty index to put a value of 30 percent on students eligible for free (not reduced price) lunch or who are homeless and in temporary housing.
National test scores and other studies have shown that reduced-price lunch students significantly outperform free lunch children and that conflating the two categories seriously understates the academic challenges of the poorest children.
The peer index shows clearly that charter schools by and large do not serve the same kind of students as district schools, and that allegations to the contrary are demonstrably false.
The link to student attrition
Student churn is a factor in many schools in New York City, and in particular the poor neighborhoods where many charters operate. Sometimes it is because families leave the neighborhood or the city. In other cases, students who are struggling decide to leave a charter school – or are encouraged to leave, either by repeated suspensions or by being “counseled out.”
To quote a 2014 IBO report on this issue: "The fact that leavers from charter schools have lower test scores than the stayers suggests that such attrition serves to increase the overall academic performance of these schools ..."
This is true because while district schools routinely replace students who leave, some charters "back-fill" only in the early grades, or not at all, meaning that the number of children at each level (the "cohort") can fall significantly.
As the size of the cohort declines and with the generally more successful students staying, test scores in non-backfill schools usually reflect an upward trajectory, particularly in comparison with district schools that accept students of all backgrounds throughout the academic year.
One potential solution would be to allow local district superintendents to fill empty seats as they open up in charters, including with high-needs students such as "over-the-counter" and other children who need a seat after the school year has begun.