By Kelly McCutchen, Mark Peevy, Dr. Ben Scafidi and Dr. Eric Wearne
Last year, the Georgia Supreme Court closed the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and gave local school boards “exclusive” control over public education in Georgia. Now legislators are debating whether the state should be able to authorize start-up charter schools and whether the state should have any role in education other than writing checks to school boards.
Georgia parents clearly want start-up charter schools: Last year more than 5,000 students were on waiting lists to attend the state’s few start-up charter schools. This may be why an overwhelming majority of the Legislature wants to change the state Constitution to make these start-up charter schools a viable option for Georgia families.
At the height of this debate over charter schools, the Georgia Department of Education is highlighting its 2010-11 Charter School report. While the report made a big splash in the news and at the state Capitol, many of its statistics need correcting.
The report listed eight Commission-approved charter schools that were open in 2010-11. Six of those eight schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). That’s 75 percent of the Commission-approved schools. Of the two that did not make AYP, one was closed by the DeKalb County School Board after negative information about the school was revealed. By that time, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission had already been closed by the Supreme Court. The Commission was never shy about closing schools; in fact, it shut down two underperforming charter schools that had been open for several years and had been previously approved by local school boards.
Georgians would be hard-pressed to name a single traditional public school closed for underperformance, even in this so-called era of school accountability. Several start-up charters have been held accountable for underperformance, however, and no longer are in operation.
Leaving aside the fact that there are far more appropriate ways to grade schools than AYP, Commission-approved schools did well. The AYP performance of Commission-approved charter schools was above or well above that of traditional public schools, and that is what is relevant in the current debate.
Reporting separate data for the various types of schools would facilitate policy-makers’ understanding and decisions. For example, the report indicates that traditional public schools controlled by school boards that converted to charter status serve disproportionately white and higher-income students, while start-up charter schools – governed by parents and other community members – are more likely to serve minority and lower-income students. But it does not allow readers to easily make this comparison.
Then, there are numbers that can’t be reconciled. More discrepancies are noted at http://www.georgiapolicy.org/pub/Education/CharterReportAnalysis120217.pdf, but here are just two examples:
In at least two places, the report states there were 71 start-up charter schools in 2010-11, of which 19 did not make AYP. Nineteen out of 71 equals 26.76 percent. Yet the report says 33.9 percent of start-up charter schools did not make AYP in 2010-11. (A footnote in the report says that some schools were not evaluated for AYP. Even if all of those schools were start-up charters, the total does not reach 33.9 percent.)
The report cites a percentage of low-income students at Amana Academy, a start-up, that is well below the percentage reported by the state on public Web sites. That was the only school we checked. The source referenced for the data is inappropriately vague, and its results do not match any commonly used public state data source. This makes it impossible to completely verify much of the information in the report.
It would require more data and time than we have to verify every single number, and time is of the essence. Pointing out these errors is in no way an attempt to point fingers, but the debate over charter schools and discussion over school choice is too important to be undermined by faulty information. To arm our legislators with the best possible information as they decide the future of Georgia’s children, it behooves the Georgia Department of Education to review its report, reconsider its numbers and report all errors.
Kelly McCutchen is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation; Mark Peevy was the executive director of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and is CEO of Education Innovation Partners; Dr. Ben Scafidi was the first chair of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and is an associate professor of economics at Georgia College & State University; and Dr. Eric Wearne was deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and is an assistant professor of education at Georgia Gwinnett College.
As an employer, and a parent and a graduate of Georgia public schools, I am pleased that the Foundation has undertaken this project. (The report card) provides an excellent tool for parents and educators to objectively evaluate our public high schools. It will further serve a useful purpose as a benchmark for the future to measure our schools’ progress.