My Charter Fears: Bad Scoreboard

I worry about the quality of the best charter schools. This is unusual in charter-world. More typically, folks worry about the mediocre and bad ones.

Few colleagues seem to share my worries about the best ones. The focus instead is how to grow. How to replicate.

(Which I also think is important! I.e., I agree with them it would be irresponsible, when we seem to have a good thing going, not try to get it to many more children.)

1. We pat ourselves on the back for getting kids to do well on state tests. Don't misunderstand. There is appropriate pride there. Many of the kids have made great gains, legit gains, meaningful gains.

But the tests are fairly easy. Often we've moved kids from academically shockingly inept to...kinda ept.

Because many of our charter schools hover near 100% proficiency on the state exams (since it's a low bar), the type of urgency to do much better, which leads to innovation, is sometimes lacking.

Maybe we should shift to an exclusive focus on how many kids we have scoring at the Advanced level. Instead of "Proficient." On those lists, we're still generally lower than the 'burbs, and I think only the top level probably reasonably correlates with aspects of college readiness.

2. Another key data point we have is "college admissions." Again, many good charters hover near 100%.

What is the true college completion rate? We don't know. The data is hard to come by. I'm guessing, at the end of the day, 50%? 60%? Yes, money is an issue. As is socialization/homesickness.

But so is good old-fashioned knowledge, vocabulary, academic skills, and self-efficacy. I.e., sometimes when kids fail in college, it's because they just weren't academically ready. And that's on us.

Right now our school has college "persistence" of about 80% of our grads, but that number will likely go down over time, as it includes people who've persisted exactly 1 year thus far.

Sure, that may still be much higher than the equivalent student who, for example, entered our admission lottery and lost. But I bet high-performing charters would do better if every school's college success rate was published.

3. That's why I'm excited about two things.

a. A new nonprofit, CollegeSuccess.net (which evidently just changed its name to Beyond 12), helps to track down each school's true college success rate. They also offer other services, but it's really the data tracking I'm excited about.

b. There is some new research, not yet officially launched, which will try to examine other long-term outcomes -- health, happiness, prosperity -- of charter lottery winners versus losers.

We need scoreboards that don't show us, year after year, at a steady state near "100% proficiency" and "100% college admission."

Again, that's not to belittle those accomplishments -- many schools don't achieve those levels, and these numbers do describe very meaningful gains -- but just that we're not unleashing the full potential of the kids.