Are Charters Better Than Traditional Schools? Texas’ A – F Grading System Suggests Maybe Not

Aug 24, 2018 by

8.24.18 – Dallas Morning News

“Are Charters Better Than Traditional Schools? Texas’ A – F Grading System Suggests Maybe Not”

By Eva-Marie Ayala

Excerpts from this article:

Texas’ new A-F grading system shows that charter schools tend to be more successful than traditional public schools, but they also have a higher rate of failure.

Statewide, charters had a larger rate of schools graded ‘A’ under the new accountability system. Traditional school districts had a much lower rate of F’s. And in North Texas, traditional schools generally outperformed their charter peers, according to an analysis by The Dallas Morning News.

The analysis also hints at the pitfalls parents face as they try to pick the best schools for their children even as charter operators and traditional public schools intensify the competition for students.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools run by private or nonprofit operators. Bucking conventional thinking, the data shows that a charter school or charter operator might get an ‘F’ — even though many charter schools are publicly perceived as better performers than traditional schools — while the public school next door that a parent was avoiding might get an ‘A.’

And yet, some educators say a charter school might still be a better for some students because many target specific children with specific needs, such as families with low incomes.

…The Texas Education Agency said nearly 37 percent of charter districts across the state earned an ‘A’ compared to about 16 percent of traditional school districts that received the highest rating. But such charter districts also had a larger share of ‘F’ grades, 8 percent compared to only 1.2 in traditional districts.

Individual campus grades were not released this year, but the public can deduce what they would have looked like based on overall numerical scores issued by the state for each school. The News’ analysis found:

* About 20 percent of charter campuses – 128 out of 625 that received numeric scores – would have received the ‘A’ grade compared to nearly 19 percent of traditional public school campuses. Meanwhile, 11 percent of charters – 69 campuses — would have gotten an ‘F.’ Only 5 percent of traditional public schools would have earned that failing grade. 

* In North Texas, nearly a quarter of Dallas area campuses at school districts would have earned an ‘A’ compared to about 15 percent of charters. And charters also would have seen a much higher rate of F’s, 12 percent compared to just under 3 percent for Dallas area school district campuses. 

* The bulk of individual charter school campuses that would have earned A’s are those that belong to large networks. Harmony Public Schools, for example, has 54 campuses and 18 would have earned an ‘A’. Of the 56 IDEA Public Schools campuses that received scores, 29 would have earned an ‘A’. 

* Charter schools with fewer children who live in poverty performed well. For example, the Westlake Academy, a city-run charter school in an affluent part of Tarrant County, outscored most other schools in the state with a 98, but also reported that no children from low-income families attend the school. Other highest performing charter schools tended to be ones affiliated with a college.

…The evolution of grading

Texas launched the state’s first academic accountability program for public schools in 1994 with a tiered system that had “exemplary” at the top and “low performing” or “academically unacceptable” at the bottom. That system lasted through 2011 when lawmakers changed it.

In 1995, Texas approved the launch of charter schools. They’re not part of a typical public school district. They’re generally subject to fewer regulations than traditional schools. For example, they don’t have state mandated class-size limits.

Charters schools serve a small portion of all Texas public school students — about 5 percent — but they often compete directly with urban districts for students. For example, about 33,000 children who live within the boundaries of Dallas ISD instead attend a charter school.

There’s been a massive expansion in the number of charter schools across Texas — many schools have long student waiting lists — as families look for more choices to suit their children’s individual needs. Some public school districts have responded by launching a slew of specialty campuses of their own.

In the previous tiered ratings, charters were generally were overrepresented at both the top and the bottom of the school ratings.

The ratings now being phased out, which used “met standard/improvement required” categories, did little to show at a glance how schools were faring against each other. While the Texas Education Agency does issue distinctions to schools for certain areas — such as college readiness — parents were rarely aware of them.

The new A through F system is intended to give communities a more detailed way of comparing schools. The letter grades are largely determined by how well students did on the STAAR tests, how much progress they made or how schools did in comparison to peers.

Drilling down into the data can reveal the complexity of the grading system.

The fast-growing International Leadership of Texas charter network, which serves about 18,000 students across the state, earned a ‘B’ as a district. But it also had five campuses that would have faced F’s if individual campuses had received grades and the state hadn’t issued accountability waivers to its schools affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Those failing campuses would have included its elementary school in Lancaster, which fared worse than the nearby Rosa Parks Elementary in Lancaster ISD that would have earned a ‘B’. The charter’s east Fort Worth middle school would have failed while the Fort Worth ISD’s Meadowbrook Middle nearby would have earned a ‘C.’

IL Texas officials said that the grades do reflect some areas where they are working to improve. But the accountability system doesn’t show the charter’s unique work to ensure their students learn Spanish and Chinese alongside English, or their mission to teach students to be servant leaders.

That’s why all schools must work on maintaining the trust of their parents, said Tony Palagonia, Dallas area superintendent and chief of student support for IL Texas.

“What we do in education, to say it can be boiled down to an A through F grade is a little misleading because it’s about relationships,” Palagonia said. “I don’t remember what teachers gave me my high grade. But I remember what teachers made me feel like I could go out and problem solve. I could go out and lead. And I could go out and accomplish things.”

<< snip >>

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.