Sunday, November 20, 2011

Study challenges IDEA charters' success claims

To get a complete picture of the picture that is getting portrayed here, check out Ed Fuller's commentary on his blog:

Important comment that he makes:

Regardless, it does not matter what the intentions of IDEA are. The fact remains that IDEA systematically enrolls students who are more advantaged than students remaining in the local public schools. This directly CONTRADICTS the claim by IDEA that they educate “underserved” students. In fact, IDEA has STILL NOT communicated how they define “underserved” students.

Critics need to consider that he uses the state's own data [2010 Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS)] to draw comparisons on the extent to which IDEA students are as "socioeconomically disadvantaged" as proponents say that they are.

Finally, in my view, there are serious questions and issues of governance. It is simply problematic to move toward any system that eliminates those structures about which parents have a vote. In fact, it is anti-democratic.


Study challenges IDEA charters' success claims
By Melissa B. Taboada and Laura Heinauer


Updated: 10:47 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011

Published: 10:32 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011

IDEA Public Schools, which has basked in accolades for its highly ranked schools and has set its sights on revamping and running some of the Austin school district's most academically troubled campuses, might have an overrated reputation for teaching challenging populations, new research has found.

A study by a Pennsylvania State University researcher shows that the charter operator, which has 10 campuses in Texas, enrolls fewer English language learners and few students who are economically disadvantaged and need special education services. In contrast to IDEA's claims that all of its graduates enroll in college, the study found that 35 percent of IDEA ninth-graders withdraw by 11th grade.

Tom Torkelson, founder of IDEA, said the report has not been peer-reviewed and said the author — former University of Texas professor Ed Fuller — has a history of opposing charter schools. Torkelson said state data show 91.8 percent of IDEA's class of 2009 completed high school in four years.

Austin district Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, who has argued that the proposed partnership would boost academic offerings in East Austin, said Tuesday that Fuller's study isn't what she'd expect from professional scientific research. "He made no pretense about his purpose, and it wasn't to be objective," she said.

Fuller's study, "Is IDEA a good idea for Austin ISD?", was given exclusively to the American-Statesman on Tuesday by education labor groups that question the planned partnership with the charter group, which would use its own staff to teach and manage two or three East Austin campuses.

Fuller, now an associate professor and executive director of the Center for Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis at Penn State, has researched the Austin district in the past. The study is part of a broader body of research on high-performing charter schools in Texas and was funded by the Texas Business and Education Coalition and the Texas American Federation of Teachers, of which Education Austin is an affiliate.

The analysis given to the Statesman on Tuesday focuses on the South Texas charter school from the 2007-08 to the 2010-11 school year. Fuller's study concludes that IDEA's success should be questioned because the charter:

• Starts with a student body that includes lower percentages of students who are economically disadvantaged, are enrolled in bilingual education or have other special needs than the enrollment of surrounding school districts.

• Sends only 65 percent of its students to college. (His report had no comparable figure for other districts.) Although all of IDEA graduates go on to college, more than a third of students who are enrolled in ninth grade leave the charter school by 11th grade. Fuller considered students who left for any reason, arguing that state completion rates cited by Torkelson don't consider students who leave for reasons such as a change to home schooling or private school.

• Outperforms area high schools because the charter sheds lower-performing students , increasing "scores at the school and district levels even if the remaining students made no increase in achievement," the report said.

"No matter how you measure it, they actually have fewer underserved students than the schools that are in the same market that they serve," Fuller said Tuesday.

Fuller also found that fifth-grade students are less likely to enroll in IDEA if they are poor. "If they're going to enroll in East Austin, that's who you need to serve is the poor kids," he said. Fuller said his concern is that the charter is "just going to segregate by ability and further concentrate kids in doomed schools."

Torkelson said IDEA analyses show that students admitted to IDEA schools didn't pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills at higher rates than students attending other area public schools. About 19 percent of students enrolling at IDEA in sixth through 10th grades previously failed reading and math exams in 2011; the average for the region was closer to 15 percent, Torkelson said.

Torkelson said he agrees with one point in Fuller's report: "that IDEA is higher performing and that our students achieve amazing results."

"We believe that our results are a product of hard work and great teaching," Torkelson said. "The report implies, without sufficient evidence, that the only explanation for our results is factors outside the control of the school."

Torkelson said Fuller's claims that the charter skims the best kids from area districts is unfounded. Torkelson said representatives go door to door in low-income neighborhoods to inform students about the school, then hold an admission lottery.

Finally, fewer IDEA students are in special education because of successful early intervention by IDEA educators, Torkelson said.

Josie Duckett, a spokeswoman with the Texas Charter Schools Association, criticized Fuller's work, saying he leaves out individual academic growth measures that "would go a long way toward telling the true story about how well these schools are preparing kids."

"If attrition is something we need to look at, then we will — and in fact we already do plan to take a deeper dive in terms of our own data," Duckett said. "Ultimately, presenting data like this in a biased fashion isn't helpful," she said.

Trustee Sam Guzman, who represents neighborhoods IDEA would focus on, said he thinks Fuller's study unfairly attacks the charter operator. "I don't have a problem with people raising questions about IDEA or anything other option or program that we explore, but I would hope that people would be fair and open-minded in doing so," Guzman said.

Officials with Education Austin, which represents about 4,000 district workers, said they want to be sure any partnership focuses on better education for children.

"The (district's) motivation is the ability to appear innovative," said Ken Zarifis, the group's co-president.

Education Austin, which asked its parent labor group to share Fuller's findings, also has been putting together a proposal to run a charter school within the district.; 445-3620; 445-3694

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  1. Angela,

    in your analysis you questioned anything that took away local voice, even calling it anti-democratic. You couldn't be more misplaced in your criticism. No one has to attend the charter school, they can choice if they want to go, or want to leave. Much easier then they can choose a different school in Austin ISD, or leave in the same way. This is the very idea of democracy, to provide choice. Parents have a say in that they have another choice of school they can send their children too.

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