Last Friday, September 20th, I was excited to have the opportunity to talk with Journal-Sentinel reporter Erin Richards on the latest round of results from the statewide report card on schools. We posted a blog about the results last week, which outlined that the rate of independent charters “meeting expectations” is about 50% higher than the rate reported for traditional public schools in Milwaukee.
What’s more, independent charters’ average growth exceeds both city and statewide averages on the report card metrics. The same is true for independent charters on the report card’s “gap-closing” scores, which measure how well schools are doing at closing the achievement gap between groups of students. These mirror the results we’ve seen nationally on charter schools, such as in CREDO’s 2013 national charter school study, out of Stanford.
Given all this, you can imagine my surprise when the article appeared on Monday, September 23rd with the headline: “Majority of independent charter schools miss mark on state report cards.” I struggled with the article’s broad and somewhat misleading title.
I was expecting a headline more similar to: “Independent charter schools nearly twice as successful as MPS on report card measures.” To be clear, there ARE many schools that were not rated as “meeting expectations,” but there are also many more schools that exceeded statewide averages in student growth and gap-closing scores. And, there were far fewer traditional public schools that “met the mark” on the report cards, compared to independent charters.
As an important caveat, I should clarify that in no way do I think the results we’ve seen out of any sector in the city ─ charter, public, or voucher ─ are anything to cause us to rest or rejoice. I pointed this out to Ms. Richards both in my conversation with her and in an e-mail I sent to her last week, as excerpted below:
“Obviously, the data for Milwaukee schools overall isn’t anything to celebrate—there’s a lot of work ahead of us to get where we want to be as a city…”
The article also relies on some oddly-chosen statistics to make its point. For example, the article points out, “The charter schools enrolled a higher percentage of white students and lower percentage of students in poverty than MPS.” I’m not exactly sure what point this is trying to make, and the actual figure of White students enrolled in independent charters is far less than what was reported in the article. As it turns out, a correction on race and ethnicity figures was later published online by the Journal Sentinel. Lastly, while it is true that charters enroll a “lower percentage” of students from poverty than MPS, the gap is small – within 5 percentage points, in fact.
As a source for this article, I did certainly point out that the statewide report cards have their limitations at the outset of our conversation, as we’ve detailed before. My intent was not to focus on an unfair system, but rather help provide some context on what these results mean, both good and bad, for charters and any other school. I also made it clear in our conversation that charters are not shying away from results or accountability, and I merely wanted to begin the conversation with the caveat that the report card system isn’t perfect and we shouldn’t treat is as an absolute – for any system of schools.
It certainly seems like the story points and angles in the article do not accurately reflect what is going on in independent charters in Milwaukee. The truth is, independent charters, though there is still work to be done, are leading the way in our state for closing the achievement gap and are benefitting students above and beyond those attending traditional public schools.