The hardest thing about trying to have an intellectual debate with ‘reformers’ is every time they start to lose, they try to change the rules.
First they say “poverty doesn’t matter” and when it becomes clear that it does, they start saying “Well, it matters, but we still need to make schools as good as possible and standardized test accountability is the best way to do that.” First they deny that charters have a self-selected population that is easier to teach, and then when you prove them wrong, they say “Yes, it’s true, but it is a good thing.”
So for years they have been hailing “miracle schools” which are high poverty schools with, supposedly, the “same kids” as the nearby ‘failing’ school who get incredible standardized test results. In New York City these included the KIPP schools, the Democracy Prep schools, and the Success Academy schools. Then, when the results came back from the more difficult common core tests, the KIPP and Democracy Prep schools didn’t do so well, though the Success Academies did.
This certainly put ‘reformers’ in to an awkward position. If Success Academies are so much better than KIPP and Democracy Prep, why not throw those other two charter chains under the proverbial bus and focus on the one true Messiah?
Instead the ‘reformers’ are trying to have it both ways: For Success Academies, there have been many op-eds about how those schools are proving all the critics wrong with their superior test results. As far as the schools who are not proving any critics wrong with their inferior test results, well, we have this recent Huffington Post piece by Michael Petrilli from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, called ‘The Problem With Proficiency’.
In it, he quotes Democracy Prep founder Seth Andrews:
Like the rest of New York, our Democracy Prep Public Schools saw dramatic drops in “proficiency rates.” In fact, we saw declines that were even greater than most. Why?
1) Entry Grade Level: Charters that enroll at the K-1 level did dramatically better than those (like Democracy Prep) who enroll in the middle school grades. This is potentially GREAT news for urban education because it means that if students don’t fall dramatically behind, they can get on grade level by grade 3, and stay on or above grade level over time. However, it is not even remotely reasonable to compare schools that randomly enroll in kindergarten to those that enroll in the sixth grade. One school has had seven years with a student while we’ve had nine months!
2) Growth Matters Most: The metric that no one has seen yet and that will be the most important to our teachers, administrators, students, and families at Democracy Prep is not “proficiency” but “value-added growth.” The reason we have operated only “A” rated schools every year since 2006 is primarily because 60 percent of that grade has been based on individual student growth, a metric on which our scholars and teachers post some of the most dramatic improvements year-over-year. In fact, even this year, our percent of “1’s” goes dramatically down in grade seven while our “2’s” go up, and by eighth grade we’ve dramatically reduced “1’s” and substantially increased “3’s and 4’s.”
My key point here is that NO ONE in this work, especially at Democracy Prep, makes so-called “miracle school claims” as reported by our critics. We believe, in fact we KNOW, that educating low-income students is incredibly hard work, compounded by the challenges of poverty, mobility, ELL status, and disability. These are not excuses; they are facts. To move our scholars from whatever grade or performance level they enter to be ready for success in the college of their choice and a life of active citizenship takes us at least five years. Given that time, our scholars consistently out-perform wealthy Westchester County on their Regents exams in nearly every subject and our first class of graduates outperformed white students on their SAT’s. Nearly 70 percent of our graduates met the NYC “aspirational performance measure” for college readiness compared to 22 percent across NYC and we require that our graduates earn an Advanced Regents Diploma because, as these new CCSS results prove, the old bar was far too low.
I actually agree with the first point. Certainly if you have a better school model, then starting with cohorts in kindergarten is going to yield the best results. But that is not what 5-8 charters like KIPP and Democracy Prep have been saying for years. They claim that they get two to three years of progress per year and in doing so their students catch up by the time they are seniors.
Also notice that he denies that anyone ever claimed that Democracy Prep was a ‘miracle school,’ yet he finishes with a bunch of miracle statistics about how their seniors did so well on the SATs and how they got better Regents scores than Westchester.
The main point of this article is that it is not proficiency rate that matters, but it is ‘growth.’ Yes, Democracy Prep had low scores on the new common core tests, but we will have to wait another year to see how much they ‘grow’ from this new baseline. Or do we?
I made two scatterplots comparing how the 7th graders did in all schools in 2012 with how the 8th graders did in all schools in 2013. Even though everyone went down, the schools with the most “growth” relative to other schools that had the same starting points should hover above the regression trend curve like little accountable angels.
As can be easily seen in these scatter plots, Democracy Prep underperformed on math compared to other schools that had similar proficiency rates last year, and did about average (as a vast majority of schools did) on the ELA test. Surely an analysis like this will be done in the upcoming New York City ‘progress’ reports, and unless there is some Tony Bennett like manipulations to unfairly boost pet schools, Democracy Prep will have low proficiency scores and low growth scores on the upcoming progress reports. I wonder how they will try to change the rules when that happens?
As far as their miraculous Regents and SAT scores? Well, fortunately New York publishes the school report cards with enrollment data for every school. The 52 eleventh graders in the 2011-2012 school year were once 65 tenth graders in 2010-2011, 79 ninth graders in 2009-2010, 104 eighth graders in 2008-2009 (must I keep on going?), 106 seventh graders in 2007-2008, and a whopping 131 sixth graders in 2006-2007. To drop from 131 sixth graders to 52 eleventh graders is a 60% attrition rate. Surely this taints any good statistics they may have for their Regents grades and SATs.
It is pretty clear that, at least by the test score accountability, Democracy Prep is, at best, an average school. Reformers better get working on some new measure that they can claim is the ‘real’ way that schools are to be judged so that they can use Democracy Prep, again, as a school that deserves to be replicated as others get closed down.