DPI released the most recent round of report card scores this week. Advocates, reporters and school officials are all looking at these data to figure out how individual schools and groups of schools fared in the ratings.
In a blog post at the Journal Sentinel one reporter asks the question, “How are independent charter schools doing?” The answer is: independent charter schools in Milwaukee continue to outperform their traditional public school counterparts on the DPI report card, and many other measures.
Let’s take a closer look.
The rate of independent charter schools “meeting expectations” in the DPI report card is about 50% higher than the traditional public schools in Milwaukee (36% of independent charters met expectations, compared to 24% of traditional MPS schools). Of course, one could argue that looking at the number of schools that “met expectations” is not the most accurate way to judge schools.
Wouldn’t we rather see one school that serves 1,000 students “meeting expectations” rather than two schools that serve 100 students each “meeting expectations?” So what do these data show us when we look at the percentage of students who attend a school that is deemed “meeting or exceeding expectations?” The gap between MPS and independent charters is even higher (see Table 1 below) -- 39% of students attending independent charters in Milwaukee were in a school meeting or exceeding expectations, compared to 22% of students attending MPS.
Independent public charters continue to be the city’s highest-performing sector of public options to students and families, and are clearly making a difference in closing the achievement gap.
Table 1. Comparison of MPS and Independent Charter Schools: Number and Percentages of Students that Attend Schools Rated “Meeting Expectations” or “Exceeding Expectations” on DPI Report Card September 2013.
First, we know that the statewide report cards are still an imperfect measure of how schools are actually performing with students. Take the example of Carmen High School of Science & Technology. On the statewide report card, the school is rated as “meets few expectations.” And yet, U.S. News and World Report ranked Carmen as the fifth-best high school in the state of Wisconsin last year. What causes this kind of discrepancy?
In part, the statewide report card is not giving adequate credit for schools that have high ACT participation rates (like Carmen). If you’re a high school in Wisconsin, you would probably rate higher on the DPI rating if you were selective about which of your students should take the ACT, favoring those who you think will do well. Thankfully, this is an issue that will be sorted out once all high school students are required to take the ACT tests, a policy that was passed in the state budget last year. This will also allow the state to measure growth at the high school level which the report card does not reflect at all, currently, for high schools. This is just one example of how a quality high school can end up in the “fails to meet” or “meets few expectations” categories.
Second, while these data are encouraging in that they demonstrate clearly that we can do better as a city, and independent charters are leading that charge, there is still much work to be done in Milwaukee and in the charter sector specifically. As charter advocates, we need to advocate for high-quality replication and expansion, help existing high-quality schools gain access to the resources they need, and push for the closure of low-performing schools that are not successfully serving students.
Independent charter schools themselves can, and should, continue to drive the agenda for school accountability and successful outcomes with students.