By Mike Klein
This week a new report that contains almost six thousand lines of data tried to explain which Georgia schools and districts are the best and worst. One improvement in the new formula gives increased emphasis to progress, that is, Jack and Jill marched up the hill even if they did not reach the pail of water. Trying and improving counts, too.
But it is also fair to ask, does the new College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) treat alternative schools fairly? Should alternative learning outside traditional models be evaluated the same or differently? When a highly regarded alternative learning academy posts an abysmally low score, is that a reason to panic and question everything?
Case in Point: Provost Academy Georgia opened in August, 2012 to focus on students who dropped out. These kids have already given up. At best, most will live a meager existence, often dependent on taxpayer-funded subsistence programs. We know some will end up inside the criminal justice system. Provost Academy with its single mission to rescue dropouts provides another chance. “We are an odd bird,” says Provost Superintendent Monica Henson.
CCRPI is also new. It replaces the previous pass / fail model. CCRPI measures actual achievement, progress, four-and-five-year high school graduation rates and the achievement gap between an individual school or district and statewide averages. It assigns a numerical score and the new method tries to make that score meaningful to stakeholders like parents. CCRPI will take some getting used to but the goal is to create an accountability model that is easier for everyone to understand.
Provost offers primarily online learning options but also some brick-and-mortar options. The latter were branded as Magic Johnson Bridgescape Centers. Yes, that Magic Johnson, the fabulously successful entrepreneur and basketball legend. Provost also secured a contract to work with youth who are under court-ordered Department of Juvenile Justice supervision but who are not sentenced to detention.
This week the CCRPI report gave Provost Academy a grade of 37 from a maximum 100. If you received that grade in a classroom anywhere you would flunk. So, did Provost flunk? And what about other alternative schools like Provost; do their low and lower scores mean they flunked?
“We see 37 as the starting point,” said Henson. She said other numbers tell a different story: 46 students graduated last year in their first full year of operation; eleventh graders were 84 percent proficient on the state writing test, students overall were 92 percent proficient in American literature, 84 percent proficient in ninth grade literature and 70 percent proficient in biology.
In two years Provost has created partnerships with the Department of Juvenile Justice (120 current students), the National Guard (learning centers at Forts Gordon and Stewart) and the Technical College System. It grew from 134 students in August 2012 to more than 1,700 this year and 2,000 projected next year. The student population is 10 percent special education, 80 percent economically disadvantaged and 60 percent minority. The average freshman is 16 years old.
Magic Johnson Centers in Macon, Augusta, Savannah and Atlanta closed this spring due to a budget shortfall but all 600 students were transferred to the online program. Henson said that an increase in state funding, already in place, will enable those four Centers and possibly others to reopen in the 2015 school year that starts this fall.
Provost’s 37 CCRPI score does not compare favorably with a 72 average for all high schools statewide. But Provost’s grade falls in line with other alternative high schools. Atlanta’s Crim Open Campus High School posted 36.2 and the DeKalb Alternative School posted 22.2. Gwinnett County’s two intervention high schools posted 29.8 and 37.4.
“Grading Provost in the same manner as traditional schools is nonsense,” says Georgia Charter Schools Association President Tony Roberts. “That is like saying more people die at Grady Hospital’s emergency room than Northside Hospital so Grady is severely deficient. That would fail to take into account the severity of patients at Grady because they are a Trauma 1 center. Provost should be celebrated for its students who (otherwise) might never obtain a diploma.”
Next month Provost will meet with juvenile justice officials to discuss how to expand learning options to more youth who are under court-ordered supervision. Two Atlanta non-profits and one in Albany are in discussion about opening Provost locations. Three county school systems have begun talks with Provost about starting dropout recovery learning centers in their available district space.
The state is also creating a second report named “Beating The Odds” that should create a more balanced playing field view for alternative schools. “This analysis removes any disadvantage a school has from having students who are educationally disadvantaged,” said DOE Associate Superintendent Louis Erste.
“Beating the Odds” should be released early next month. “If you look at us against our peers we are doing a tremendous job,” says Henson at Provost.
The Foundation’s Criminal Justice Initiative pushed the problems to the forefront, proposed practical solutions, brought in leaders from other states to share examples, and created this nonpartisan opportunity. (At the signing of the 2012 Criminal Justice Reform bill.)